BRITISH PUBS VERSUS AMERICAN BARS
A British pub must never be confused with an American bar. Pubs are an important part of the life and culture in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, of course, the Republic of Ireland.
The word “pub” comes from “public house.” In older times, the term signified someone’s house that had been opened to the public. A pub is truly the neighborhood’s living room. It’s an everyday party for the neighborhood, and your welcome is a bit warmer than in an American bar. The owner or operator is referred to by various names: host, publican, landlord, governor. He often lives on the premises.
There is no table service in English pubs. Order and pay at the bar. The barman or barmaid is very aware whose turn is next. Signal your readiness to make a purchase by holding money in your hand. You will be waited upon in turn. All purchases are in cash. Not many pubs take credit cards.
If you are seated at a table, it is customary for one or two persons to make the trip to the bar on behalf of the entire table.
Food, if available, is also ordered and paid for at the bar. The barman or barmaid, however, will bring food to your table. Just leave your glasses or plates on the table when you are ready to leave.
WHAT TO DRINK
Since a pub is the neighborhood’s living room, you are under no obligation to order anything alcoholic. Your order for coffee or a Coke will be filled cheerfully and without batting an eye.
Mixed drinks such as margaritas and daiquiris are virtually unknown. If you wish something with alcohol, you either will be drinking distilled spirits (whiskey, gin, vodka, rum) with water or a mixer, or you will be drinking beer. The latter comes as ale (dark beer), lager (light beer), bitter (light ale), or stout (very dark beer). For a fuller explanation of the difference, click here. Some beers have much more alcohol than others, and the color or taste of the beer gives little indication. Your barman or barmaid will know the percentage of alcohol of all beers sold in the pub.
A request for ale or lager or bitter or stout will get you a full pint unless you specifically ask for a half pint. (In Ireland, a request for a glass of beer will get you a half pint.) The British pint is 20 ounces, as opposed to our 16 ounces. While English pubs are free to charge whatever prices they set, the measures of the alcohol they sell are strictly standardized by law. A shot of whiskey, for example, contains the same quantity of whiskey from one pub to another. It would be illegal to pour more or less than the standardized amount.
When drinking beer, Professor Franks recommends Harp, a strong-tasting lager brewed in Ireland and fairly low in alcohol content. A very good and popular ale is Newcastle, brewed in England’s northernmost city, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, near the border with Scotland.
Expect American-branded beers brewed in England, such as Budweiser, to be brewed to British tastes and therefore to taste very different than in America. Expect beer to be not quite as cold as in America. Also, when requesting ice for a Coke or mixed drink, expect only a few cubes, not a glass filled with ice.
Even though you won’t be driving, you do represent Southern University and the United States of America. Drink responsibly, please.
Pubs are not restaurants. Pubs rarely offer evening meals. Many pubs, however, do offer “pub grub” at lunch time. This can range from soup-of-the-day and a sandwich at some pubs, to one or two meal selections for the day, to a full menu at other pubs. Pub grub is a good way to get a hearty meal at a fairly reasonable price.
A few pubs offer breakfast.
There is no tipping in an English pub! To offer a tip is to display your unfamiliarity with pub etiquette. (Yes, you do tip in a restaurant as opposed to a pub. Fifteen per cent is a very generous tip in an English restaurant. Ten per cent is acceptable.)
If you have a particularly helpful barman or barmaid, you may offer him or her a drink. Simply ask, “May I get you a drink?” or “... and one for yourself?” Do not ask, “May I buy you a drink?” (To a Brit, the words “may I buy you” might imply charity.) The barman or barmaid will then simply charge you for one additional drink. He or she will drink the beverage, but probably will wait until near closing time to do so. There is no prohibition in England against a barman or barmaid drinking in moderation on the job.
You may engage freely in conversation with strangers seated or standing at the bar. Avoid the outstretched hand, “Hi, I’m Bob from Baton Rouge.” Just start in with a comment or question about the weather, the beer, events in town, et cetera. It is rude, however, to speak to strangers seated at a table.
England is a free country, and freedom of speech definitely prevails in the pub. Conversations can be about almost anything. Debates can be lively, but are always conducted in good spirits and with respect for the other person’s viewpoint.
Do not be surprised if someone offers to get you a drink (or get the table a round of drinks), while at the same time telling you just what he or she thinks of the war in Afghanistan or the present occupant of the White House. You are absolutely free to disagree and argue your case - politely, of course - but you are expected to reciprocate by buying the next round of drinks.
When the barman or barmaid rings the big bell (usually at 11 p.m., 10:30 on Sundays), closing time has arrived. The publican rings the bell twice. First time, it means “last call.” Second time, it means the bar is closed. English law, however, allows a twenty-minute “drinking up time” for patrons to finish drinks purchased at last call.
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