Making plans with your British pals: How to deal with flakiness

If you make plans with friends in your culture are they likely to keep them or is nothing ever set in stone? If the latter is true, you should read this article.

Nothing but flakes: have you ever flaked out on a social engagement?

Flakes and flakiness: do you have a word for being unreliable when it comes to social engagements in your language?

In some cultures, making plans to see friends in advance is common practice. In others, people keep it more spontaneous and meet up with just a few moments’ notice. Britain offers a mix of both approaches.

People are not averse to committing to engagements far, far in the future. But even if the date is firmly agreed upon, things may change closer to the time. In fact, making plans and then cancelling them at the last minute is so common that people have come up with a word for it: flakey (sometimes also spelt flaky).

If someone has a habit of cancelling at short notice, he or she might be referred to as being ‘flakey’ or ‘a flake’. And the very act of calling off a social engagement at the last minute is commonly referred to as ‘flaking out’.

The word doesn’t tend to translate well into other languages. In German or Japanese, for example, there is no difference between being unreliable when it comes to social engagements and being, well, unreliable.

In Britain, flaking out is so socially accepted that describing people who do as unreliable would be seen as far too harsh. Having a friend who constantly lets you down might be a reason for not being friends with them anymore, whereas having a friend who is ‘a bit of a flake’ is not.

There's not a lot of snow in Britain, but people are often described as flakey

There’s not a lot of snow in Britain, but people are often described as flakey

How should you deal with it? If you’re not one for long-term forward planning anyway, keep being spontaneous. If, however, you have the next 17 weeks of your life fully mapped out and you don’t like rescheduling, you should take the following steps when making plans with a Brit:

Step 1: When agreeing a date with a Brit more than a week in advance, make a secret alternative plan in case your friend flakes out.

Step 2: Two or three days before the date, send a message to confirm a certain detail you haven’t spoken about yet, such as the exact time or meeting place. The answer will most likely be ‘Sounds good’.

Step 3: One day before the date, send a message asking if you’re “still on for tomorrow”. If the answer is ‘Yes’, proceed to Step 4. If the answer is ‘Ah sorry, I won’t be able to make it now unfortunately, because [insert excuse]’, thank the Lord you have a backup plan and move on. Don’t waste any time festering resentment because your friend didn’t tell you about the change out of their own initiative. Brush it off as a cultural difference and try to rearrange.

Step 4: If the Brit has not flaked out on you (yet), and you have established somewhat of a relationship, casually mention that you hate flakiness and you’d rather people didn’t agree to things unless they are 100% sure they can make it. Note: Don’t make the same remark to a Brit who has flaked out on you before, as this will come across as incredibly passive aggressive.

Alternatively, you could change your approach entirely, not make many plans and start flaking out on others.


Does your language have a word for being unreliable when it comes to social engagements? Let us know via email at or Twitter at @IABT_Official.

Stay up to date! Follow us on Twitter or sign up to our Newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *