What Makes Britain Great #8
The eighth in a series of snippets about what it’s like to live in the UK. Here we talk about one of our great British institutions:
8. The pub
British pubs aren’t famous the world over for nothing! The ‘local’ (as we call it) is the backbone of social life throughout most of the country, serving pints of real ale, lager and cider alongside continental beers, wines and spirits. They are embedded into our culture as deeply as drinking tea and eating fish and chips. So, what is the attraction? Why has the pub become such a great British Institution? Well, since I’m a pub lover myself l can probably answer your questions. If I don’t cover them all, at least I’ve had fun doing the research.
Definition (courtesy of The Free Dictionary): Pub – a building with a bar and one or more public rooms licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink, often also providing light meals. Formal name; public house.
There are more than 50,000 pubs in the UK (although this number is in rapid decline). In many places, especially in villages, pubs are traditionally the focal point of the community. In other less rural settings they are a place to meet up with friends, read the paper, watch the football or simply buy a drink on your way home. All have to be licensed by their local council to sell alcohol and each premises’ licence is specific to them dictating the hours during which alcohol can be sold. Generally speaking, pubs sell alcohol from 11am to 11pm on week days, later on Friday and Saturday nights although licensing times can vary considerably – it is not unusual in town centres for pubs to be open until 2am or later.
There are many reasons why pubs are so popular with us Brits. Here is a list of the attractions (in no particular order):
Most pubs generally have community of their own as well as people dropping in and out on a more transient basis. The owner, tenant or manager (licensee) of a public house is properly known as the “pub landlord”. It is the landlord who manages the day to day operations and is pivotal to the atmosphere. A warm and friendly landlord will attract a similar clientele and an atmosphere where fellow drinkers talk to each other over their pints rather than keep to themselves. When punters get to know each other, they generally return and become “locals” or “regulars” (people who frequent a particular pub on a regular basis). The pub that people visit most often is called their local, but a person’s “local” doesn’t necessarily mean the pub nearest to their home – it is the pub in which they are a regular.
Drinks and Grub
Many pubs are controlled by breweries and beer lovers go to the pub simply for the beer. As well as bottled beers, and lagers, pubs also have a selection of “draught beers” which are hand pumped from kegs. Draught beer is often unfiltered and/or unpasteurised rather than mass produced with chemicals and filled with gas. Although the UK is supposed to have gone metric, beer is still sold in pints or half pints.
There is a selection of other alcoholic drinks including spirits which are sold in measures of 24m, a “double” being 48ml. Wine is sold by the glass (the size can vary, but is usually specified). Non alcoholic drinks and mixers are also sold, as well as snacks like peanuts, and crisps. If you’re hungry and want more than just a snack, most pubs serve hot food – this is often the lifeblood of a pub as the profit margins can be high. The best traditional pubs serve simple, unpretentious food, referred to as “pub grub”. There will usually be a menu, or chalkboard listing what is available – it’s generally reasonably priced, ordered from the barman with your drinks and then delivered informally to your table when it’s ready.
There are a few games and passtimes which are synonymous with the pub. Pool, darts and dominoes are all traditional games played and there are leagues where regional and national competitions take place between pub teams. If you like competitions, many pubs also hold a weekly “pub quiz”, where the punters form small teams and answer a variety of general knowledge questions – the winning team goes home with a prize. Fruit machines and juke boxes are standard pub paraphernalia and popular ways of passing the time, and many pubs have TVs where sports fans can congregate to watch their favourite teams play live on massive plasma screens.
A few things you might like to know before you visit:
Waiting your turn at the bar: The British like to queue, but the main exception to queuing is in a pub, where there is no obvious line of people waiting. Instead of forming an orderly queue, people lean against the bar and wait for the barman to serve them in the order in which they arrived. It is considered good manners to indicate to the server that the person next to you was there before you, if they were. Conversely, it is bad manners to be served before someone who has been waiting longer than you, even if the barman asks for your order first. We Brits get very frustrated if we think someone is “pushing in” rather than waiting their turn – so be warned!
Children and alcohol restrictions: The age at which people are legally allowed to purchase alcohol in the UK is 18. If an adult buys alcohol on behalf of a person under 18, they can be prosecuted along with the vendor. Pubs therefore are generally considered a place for adults, and more often than not children are discouraged. There are exceptions to this rule though, especially in the summer where many pubs with gardens welcome families (including children of all ages) with open arms. Pubs with separate restaurants will often also welcome children and provide children’s menus – and often some form of entertainment to keep the little people happy.
We have a smoking ban: It is against the law to smoke inside any enclosed public space in the UK- this includes (but is not limited to) pubs. Most pubs now have an area outside with ashtrays and patio heaters where smokers can gather though, so if you’re used to having a cigarette with your preferred tipple, you can still do that. You might want to wrap up warm though, even with patio heaters it can get a bit chilly out there in the winter!