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Thoughts on the British Pub Culture

9:19 pm Thu, 26th March 2009

Recently I tweeted this fairly bold statement:

A txt in todays London paper completely sums up an attitude I despise in British culture: “Coffee shops are a poor substitute for the pub”

And recieved a questioning response from a follower:

Why’s that cause you such offense? Coffee shops are becoming the new pub after all and not everyone will be happy with that.

It made me ponder – why did that txt in the London paper create in me such a strong response? Perhaps I’m just becoming more opinionated in my old age. πŸ˜› I was about to tweet a reply and then realised I most definitely would not be able to fit an adequate response within 140 chars. Lol. So seeing as it’s an issue I’ve often mulled and ranted (to my bf) on in the past, I thought it would be worth getting these thoughts written in a more succinct and coherent form here. Besides, I’m well overdue for a new blog post. πŸ˜‰ But enough waffling.. what I really wanted to do here was answer the question.

I think initially it has much to do with my background and cultural upbringing. I come from Sydney, Australia, where the “cafe culture” is alive and thriving, and more specifically grew up within the ABC (Australian Born Chinese) sub-culture. If we wanted to meet up, we would first suggest any of the numerous cafe’s to meet for a coffee or meal and a chat. Although drinking is quite rife amongst many Australians, my circle of friends weren’t really into it that much – and if we wanted to go out and “party” we would go to a club to dance (like myself, many of my friends were also very into dancing). For me, socialising has always been about food (oh how we love good food), non-alcoholic beverages (eg coffee, hot chocolates, fresh juice smoothies etc) or some form of physical activity (dancing, sports, going to the beach, bush-walking, having a bbq.. whoops that’s food again).

So compare that to Britain, where first and foremost the average Brit’s idea of socialising involves alcohol and the pub. I have been here for nearly 4 years and still do not feel like I fit in with the whole drinking/pub culture. Everytime people mention the they’re going to pub.. well, to be honest I find the going to the pub extremely dull and boring. This is also largely due to the fact that I actually dislike the taste of almost all alcoholic beverages. So why go and force myself to drink something I dislike whilst watching others get roaring drunk and generally making fools of themselves? I would much rather sit in a cosy warm cafe on comfy chairs (who wants to stand the whole night?) and relish over some good coffee and great conversation. Heck, I’d rather sit and watch paint dry. πŸ˜›

I also have a very strong disapproval towards binge drinking. It’s a chronic problem in this country and it’s not something Brits should be proud of. Just this morning I read an article in the Metro that stated in a recent European poll, a survey of 35 countries, found the UK had the third-highest number of 15 and 16-year-olds with an alcohol problem. And I believe this problem is inherently due to the mindset of the British culture. The mindset that drinking to excess is cool and fun and even something to boast about. If this is the impression adults give, what other model do the younger generations have to go by? And that txt sent in seemed to really encapsulate this thinking.

To put some additional perspective on my rant, it’s not that I never drink or completely disapprove of drinking. I can enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage over a meal (have started to enjoy a spot of wine with some good pasta or meat, and am not adverse to a bit of Italian Limoncello following a tasty italian meal). I might even go for 1 drink at a bar/pub occasionally for the sake of conversing with friends or to celebrate a birthday. And if I go clubbing, I may enjoy a drink (preferably something tasty like a mojito) to kick off the festivities of the night (though no more than 1 or at most 2 because drinking and (serious) dancing most definitely do NOT mix). But I think my idea of alcoholic beverage consumption is more closely aligned with that of much of continental Europe. Probably one of the reasons I seem to always feel more at home when I’m over there. It is something to be enjoyed on occasion, in small amounts, and usually to complement good food.

Posted in Introspection, Life, Rant & Bitch | 10 Comments »

  1. 10 Comments on “Thoughts on the British Pub Culture”

  2. sabret00the
    Mar 27, 2009

    It’s nice to be quoted by such an internet celebrity.

    I think I first off need to state that I’m personally not against the coffee shop experience. Starbucks done a lot to bring the cafe culture here into the twenty-first century. However, you have to realise that for most, the sound of the word ‘cafe’ brings forth the imagination of a greasy spoon and as such of course people want to stay away.

    Personally I don’t mind where i socialise, just as long as there’s something I want to drink and the problem with cafe’s is that if you don’t drink hot drinks, your drinks are often overpriced.

    Then you have to take a lot at the fact that most people who go to cafe’s aren’t actually friends to start with and so want a little edge. For example, if I’m meeting up with friends, I’ll almost certainly suggest one of our houses or it’ll be a pre-club drink. However if I’m meeting up on a date I’ll opt for the pub because when chemistry is failing, it’s not a bad idea to grab a little help from a little alcohol in your blood stream.

    Being that you’re Chinese, you’ll also find that you’re a lot more sociable than the average person here. That’s something that sub-Asian culture has over the British culture. Here the idea of going for a chat is often accompanied with the practice of shopping here.

    I think it’s important to celebrate people that are out with their close friends and given that the weather sucks most of the time, of course they’ll be in cafe’s and pub’s.

    I don’t frown on either and totally understand the purpose of both. But ultimately, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

  3. Kazzart
    Mar 27, 2009

    I’ll reply more later but as I should be working right now, I’ll just quickly post some initial thoughts –

    Firstly, when I say cafe, I’m thinking more along the lines of Parisian or Italian style cafes with tables out on the sidewalk… classy and chic serving good food and good coffee. Australia also has some great cafes. None of this chain costa/starbucks business. Though I don’t mind the occasional starbucks (as there usually is no alternative). But I never order coffee there as it tastes disgusting. Costa is even worse. Nero is the only acceptable one IMO. Britain really needs to pick up on its cafe act!! I make *infinitely* better coffee using my stovetop caffetiera. My italian bf can attest to that.

    Secondly – maybe its to do with being chinese, but I find food a better and more genuine social lubricant (not only asians, it seems a common thing also amongst continental europeans like italians). I find it a little sad that people feel they need alcohol in order to open up enough to converse with others. Another characteristic of the british – the distance/coolness they like to keep.

    But in the end, I do agree everyone is entitled to their opinion. This is simply mine. :)

    ps Internet celebrity? Lols where did u get that idea?

  4. Jonathan
    Mar 27, 2009

    Well I’m with you 100% on this, Kazza, and I’m British. If you’re going to socialise with people, the venue is unimportant. It’s the people who make the occasion – that is, unless one’s idea of “socialising” is in fact getting drunk. So the only people who have a problem with coffee shops taking over the role of pubs are those who are interested in drinking rather than socialising.

    Anyway, the line between pubs and coffee shops is already becoming blurred. Smoking is already eliminated (thank goodness), there can more comfortable seating and a coffee machine. And of course, there should be no loud music to hinder conversation.

    Now a slight rant: I don’t really like the way everyone has to be categorised by or have their behaviour explained by their race, nationality, upbringing, etc. Do people have no minds of their own? If you think you sometimes have a bad time in London, place yourself in the shoes of someone who can’t identify with many British people who are only interested in drinking, but who also is shunned by people of other nationalities for being British.

    Anyway, thanks for blogging about this (it only just came up in Google Reader, though – why the delay?) It allows all of us to participate in the debate, rather than just those who use Twitter or Facebook (too often I want to reply to Twitter posts but there’s no means to do so!) And sorry my reply’s a bit hurried – should be working too!

  5. sabret00the
    Mar 27, 2009

    I must admit that I myself am disappointed that it’s taking something like Costa/Starbucks for us to leave the idea of the greasy spoon in the past and move onto the idea of using cafe’s as an avenue for socialising. Especially right now where people aren’t sure what to do with their spending, being able to sit in/outside a cafe and have a small nibble and a drink is a wondrous thing. Don’t think i was endorsing Starbucks, i was just reluctantly paying homage to it’s feats within British culture. I do believe and hope that the evolution of people that go to cafe’s will mean that more people to go ‘proper’ cafe’s but with all things it takes time.

    Food is a great social lubricant, however it’s not got the de-inhibitors that alcohol has. Not to mention that not all people, I’m one of them, like to be seen eating and talking at the same time.

  6. Matt in Seattle
    Jun 14, 2009

    Hello, I found your site by chance after looking up information on Florence, Italy. We are leaving next week for two weeks in Florence and France and I am so glad that I found your YouTube video as well as your blog. Very nice! Great work. Matt

  7. James
    Jun 19, 2009

    I completely disagree. Coffee shops are generally soul-less greef holes. Pubs are a great british tradition, the fact you equate them with binge drinking means that either your friends are idiots, or you read dodgy tabloids too often. You speak about Europe like no one drinks and everyone goes for coffee all the time, have you been to germany or eastern europe? Or france or italy for that matter.

  8. Kazzart
    Jun 19, 2009

    @James – from your comment it is apparent that it is you who haven’t travelled abroad much – well, if you have perhaps you’ve only spent time in the typical british tourist trap zones where little real culture/life is seen. Seeing as you have been reading my blog for some time, you should know well that I have spent quite a bit of time on the continent – having lived in a germany for a few months (whilst my ex bf was based there), and have more recently spent quite a bit of time immersed in local italian life in regular trips with my current italian bf – whose family and friends live there. I have also visited spain, portugal and france. So perhaps the only gap in my experience would be that of eastern europe (which is, to be honest, an area I wasn’t really including in my comparison).

    I can confidently state (the obvious) that yes it’s true europeans on the continent do drink alcoholic drinks (err duh..) – my point was that they do not have the same culture of drinking to excess that brits are so famous for. And yes, it is also true they are more inclined towards having a social cup of coffee (instead of social drink of alcohol) than brits. Eg. italian colleagues will more often buy each other a round of espresso rather than a round of alcoholic drinks at lunch. There is sadly a strong truth behind the reputation of brits, which statistics, as well as real life, demonstrate time and again. Just catching public transport on a fri or sat night after 11pm is proof enough. And I’m not only talking about the idiots either, who exist in any country (incidentally, those I count as my closest friends do not drink in this manner) – I’m talking about the every day, average worker in central london. Be it bankers, media types, IT folk, hospitality. Every company I’ve worked for here has been the same, with the same culture of drinking to excess. Its like a badge of honour they’re proud of wearing.

    As for the europeans – yes they drink (again stating the bleeding obvious). And they can drink quite a bit at times – as I often saw in Germany for example (how they love their Hefeweizen beer). However.. they seem to have a better grasp of their limit. I don’t why it is, but they do – something to do with their culture and upbringing and role of families I suspect – because the issue of underage drinking is also much much less of a problem over there. I discovered that the average german tends to be able to down quite a lot of alcohol – BUT (in most cases) they can handle it! And that is the difference. Walking around there on a fri or sat night is quite different – dare I say it, much more civilised in comparison to here.

    Finally – what on earth is a “soul-less greef hole”? I have no idea what cafe’s you’ve been to, but I have already commented on what I mean when I say cafe (see my prev comments pls), so I won’t go into it again.

    The only time I can imagine the british pub being a “great tradition” is in the case of the gastro pub – pubs which excel in serving great food, and which people visit for the food as opposed to just the drink. Did you even read my last paragraph?

  9. Kazzart
    Jun 19, 2009

    @Jonathan All I can say is – stay true to who you are. I admire that you hold to your values. I think eventually you will break the barriers between yourself and non-british folk who will see you for what you value more. Perhaps you should come to London – there are many brits here that I know who mix with non-brits because they share similar values and interests.

  10. Robert Shumake
    Jan 18, 2010

    Just wanted to say that I read your blog quite frequently and I’m always amazed at some of the stuff people post here. But keep up the good work, it’s always interesting.
    See ya,

  11. Kazzart
    Jan 22, 2010

    @Robert Wow really? You read my blog frequently? I must appologise then for the lack of updates since last August!! I really should make a better habit of my blogging. But thankyou for your kind comment and hope you continue reading. :)

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