Improving America: How to Drink Like a Brit

Brian Wheate downs a pint at August's British Beer Festival. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Brian Wheate downs a pint at August’s British Beer Festival. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Let’s be honest. There are few arenas in which we Brits consider ourselves world leaders. Prowess in the consumption of alcoholic beverages, however, makes it onto that very short list. Most Americans look on in awe (or is it horror?) when we expats open our gullets for a night down the pub.

We don’t consider ourselves alcoholics just because we drink every night
In some parts of the U.S., your friends and colleagues will reverse pickpocket you with AA pamphlets because they’re convinced your habit of cracking open a bottle of Pinot or heading straight to the pub after work means you have a problem. Back home, nightly boozing is business as usual. In fact, the opposite situation (never drinking after a hard day in the office) will earn you more concerned head tilts from Brits.

Open wine MUST be finished in one sitting
Nothing irks us like wasted booze. This is why British pubs and clubs are the only drinking establishments in the world where you’ll find people — students mainly — “mopping up” other patrons’ leftovers. The more mainstream, less repulsive version of this — opening a bottle of wine and finishing it — can be observed in most British homes nightly (see above). We also won’t open a second bottle if we’re not intent on seeing it through to the dregs. This despite the fact that most opened wine keeps nicely for a couple of days. Only the Russians can one up us on this, because they do it with vodka.

Sometimes alcohol can and should take the place of food
I’ve talked before about how Brits don’t necessarily compliment drinking with eating. We’ll happily subsist on beer and sprinkling of peanuts for a day, like intoxicated squirrels.  Breaking down and demanding real food means you’re not serious about having a good time. The only acceptable nourishment option is a post-pub, “dirty” doner kebab: beige ribbons of compacted sheep parts (which ones, nobody knows) jammed into pita bread.

Drinking is about showing off, not enjoyment
How we approach booze consumption reminds me of those chili-eating contests in Mexico. The pleasure comes not from the torturous act itself, but from knowing you out did your pals. Back home, being able to drink more than your mates make you their leader. If, on the other hand, you’re the group’s biggest lightweight, forget about it. You’re forever doomed to be that loser lion on the outside of the pack, who makes friends with the antelopes rather than having them for dinner.

If you don’t regret everything in the morning, you didn’t drink enough
Another side effect of our extreme drinking is a rapid wearing down of boundaries that, when sober, prevent you from telling your best friend that his awful ex-girlfriend (who you forgot he just got back together with) looks like the back end of a rhino. Having monumentally put your foot in it, you’ll proceed to spill some things, then copulate with someone whose name you didn’t quite catch.

*Note: Of course, this is all in good fun and we at Mind the Gap encourage everyone (even Brits) to drink responsibly. Alcoholism, or any alcoholism — or any form of substance abuse — is not an issue to be taken lightly. British comedian and addict Russell Brand (someone who knows the value of a good joke about booze) puts it: “Addiction is a serious disease; it will end with jail, mental institutions, or death.”

We’re discussing Brits, drinking, and beer and wine suggestions in our weekly chat on Twitter, this Wednesday, September 18 at 2 pm ET @MindTheGap_BBCA. To participate, use the hashtag #MindTheChat.

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis
  • ukhousewifeusa

    haha, love this! ;)

  • expatmum

    Probably been in the US too long but I do find the fact that the sole aim in the UK, (among the young, at least) is to go out and get as pissed as you can in the shortest amount of time possible. Preferably on less than a tenner.

    • MontanaRed

      This has been a complaint of mine about teenagers in the US since I was one (decades and decades ago)!

      • Expat Mum

        I really don’t think you see it on the same scale. I’m in Chicago, where there are heavy drinkers, but we don’t have heavy police presence and ambulances at closing time like there are in some UK cities, purely to deal with the drunks. Watch the documentaries on places like Cardiff, (which I believe currently holds the title for the most drunken city, or something) and you won’t see anything like it in the US.
        I’m not saying kids these days don’t drink too much, but it doesn’t clog up the emergency rooms on a Friday & Saturday night like it dos in many UK cities. It’s really shocking.

        • MontanaRed

          I really had no idea of the magnitude of the problem in the UK. That is indeed shocking. And saddening.

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