This article belongs to Life in Britain column.


A popular question among British people is "What do you drink?" roughly translatable as "What's your favourite alcoholic drink?" Answering that I rarely drank alcohol gained me several odd looks. I also overheard many conversations, and was part of some, where people told each other about how drunk they were at any particular night, as though this was an achievement to be proud of.

It's not that Germans don't drink, mind you. Of course they do. But, when German people go out to the pub, they normally do this in order to meet their friends and have a chat, have fun, be sociable. Getting drunk might be a side effect to this. In Britain, however, I have heard many people say they go out in order to get drunk. And boy, they do.

A group-exercise in one of my courses at uni served as another eye opener to British culture for me. During a general presentation course, our group was asked to list the pros and cons of alcohol consumption. The members of our group were largely British, except for one Irish girl and another German person besides me. However, we two Germans hardly got a word in edgewise during the following discussion. It was as though an avalanche had been let loose from a high mountain full of snow. The British students, among with the Irish girl I should say, literally almost fell over themselves (we had to write and draw on a poster, so we were sitting on the floor) in order to list the many benefits of alcohol. They pointed out how it loosened your inhibitions, how the most ugly people could become beautiful in your eyes if you just had enough drink in you, and how easy flirting became once you were sufficiently intoxicated. When hard pushed for coming up with a downside to alcohol, they eventually decided to put on the poster 'don't drink every day'. They did admit that this was probably not healthy.

When in a pub in Germany and ordering a beer, you will get a rather small glass of roughly 0.3 litres (except if you are in Bavaria, where different rules apply). In Britain, you get a pint. It's also a common expression, especially for British men, to say that they are about to go down to the pub for a pint. It rarely stays at one pint though. This is not to suggest that British women don't drink, far from it in fact, they seem to enjoy their alcohol just as much as men do, although it appears to be less common for lone girls to head down the pub for a solitary meeting with a beer glass. As much as I can say from my own observations, the socialising aspect of alcohol (i.e., meeting people) does seem to be slightly more important for girls. Or maybe this is because it is rather unsafe for single girls to be seen in a pub late at night? After a certain time, those pubs do become over populated with rather drunk men who aren't exactly a pleasure to speak to. I encountered some of them at my favourite karaoke pub, and when they appeared, my friends and I usually knew it was time to leave.

One thing I found really hard to get my head around was this notion of drinking alcohol for the sake of being 'sociable'. In my opinion, the fact that someone needs alcohol in order to have fun sounds contradictory to the concept of 'sociable', yet this is another issue I might have a rant about in a completely separate article!

Yes, I better admit it: the British love for drinking alcohol was something I found very hard to understand. The subject of alcohol was probably the phenomenon that caused my biggest culture shock over there, and the thing to which I could least imagine adapting.