Where do I begin?
There is a big drinking culture in the UK.
But don’t let it alarm you! Leave those American puritanical judgments about alcohol at home and come out to join the party! Honestly, I don’t drink that much so it shocks me to see someone drink pint, after pint, after pint, after pint, after pint…after pint, on a Thursday, with colleagues and with no judgement at work the next day. Zero. But this gluttony with alcohol is the norm. You may drink even less than I do, or ten times as much so take this information as one side of the story only:
- Drinking is a major social activity. Almost every Thursday and Friday after work there is a trip to a local pub. On nicer evenings, people spill out of the pub and enjoy their drinks on the pavement (sidewalk).
- There are public service announcements and an effort by the government to curb binge drinking and the like. I have no idea if it helps. One of the main questions you get asked when you register for NHS is how many units of alcohol you drink per day! So while drinking is socially acceptable here, being out of control about it is not (not to say you won’t see people out of control on a regular basis).
- Men, typically, drink some kind of beer. Women also drink beer, but I’ve noticed when I go out for drinks with a group of ladies we tend to order wine or cocktails instead.
- Pubs usually don’t make cocktails so check their menu before asking for some fancy cocktail. They probably do have wine. Bars will often have a cocktail menu. Cocktails are weaker here as just about every place measures each single shot (apparently it’s the law to accurately measure here whereas in the States it is not, and bartenders use a the free, counted pour there). So consider your options carefully before ordering that £8 drink.
- Someone will typically offer to buy your drink, or buy a round for everyone, with the understanding that someone else will get up to pay for the next round. This is more or less governed by the rule of generosity: if you can and want to, pay for a round. Try not to be that person who gets all of their drinks paid for them without bothering to reciprocate. If you’re flat broke and can only afford your own drink, don’t be shy to say it! Someone is usually nice enough to cover you for the night (just remember to cover for them the next night). We’re all been there, or are going to be there (especially since most people are paid once per month).
- If you look visibly drunk and are stumbling around, you will have a more difficult time hailing a taxi. Keep it together, don’t puke in the taxi but also resist the urge to puke in your handbag (all incentives to not drink more than you can handle, right?!)
- You can go out and not drink. Drinking is not a social requirement. Some people don’t drink at all and lots of guys and girls will quit drinking for a month, three months, etc in order to shape up, meet some other fitness goal or to simply stop feeling like crap everyday. But they still come out and have a lemonade (Sprite), Coke or just water. I’ll stay out all night nursing the same glass of wine, and hold it up to say “Still not done with this one,” when someone insists on getting me another. People think they are helping you have a good time but if you’re clear that you are not interested in drinking, people will respect that.
- The general order of business is: finish work, go to the pub, drink for a couple hours, maybe someone orders some chips (fries) for the table, drink more then go out for a bite. It kills me sometimes that the food comes later but it’s a good system for keeping the stomach somewhat settled.
- KNOW YOUR LIMIT and BE ON GUARD. As a female in her early thirties, and a relative lightweight when it comes to alcohol, I know that my limit is three drinks (three pints, three large glasses of wine, 3 shots, etc) and after that I may cross over to the dark side. Anything more than that and I need to be absolutely sure what my plan is for getting home. Am I taking the bus? Where is the closest stop? Am I going to take a taxi? Are there taxi’s along this street and do I have enough money? Do I feel safe here? Will I be leaving on my own or will someone be looking out for me to get to the bus/taxi? While London is generally safe from violent crime, I and some friends have been approached and accosted by people when we’re looking less than sober (and even when completely sober). My American defensive, fight-back skills have come in handy a couple times.
- Please, please, please take care to know your limits and to not be out of your mind on a night out. Save those nights for the safety of your own, or a friend’s, flat!
- Never tip for drinks at a bar or pub, even if you feel like it would be a nice gesture. It’s not really viewed that way. I have a friend who pulls pints in the evenings at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a music venue. When they have an American act performing, it draws an American audience and the bar staff knows this means they are probably going to get a few tips that night. Meaning they don’t expect tips at any other time. Don’t feel bad; you are not expected to subsidize anyone’s wages. Save those tips for food service (10% average).