Sunday, November 05, 2006

The one thing my country doesn't have is...: England

England doesn't have a civilised drinking culture. On a Friday or a Saturday night everyone between 17 and 30 is expected to drink until they fall over or throw up -- preferably both. People who choose not to do this are called ‘dull’ and ‘boring’ and ‘no fun’.

Getting drunk is fun, but you are expected to do it every Friday and Saturday in a noisy smoky bar or pub where the music is so loud that you have to shout to have a conversation.

Up until earlier this year, all pubs had to close at 11pm, driving the drinkers out into the streets where they would fight, shout, mess around with traffic cones and shopping trolleys and piss against walls before going on to clubs or returning home.

To stop this 11pm rush, the government this year extended opening hours, so landlords (this is what we call pub owners) decide when they close. Some pubs stay open until the early morning; but most still stick to the 11pm closing time. The other idea behind this change to the law is that closing all pubs at 11pm makes people feel that because there is a time limit, they need to drink as much as possible before closing time.

Apart from the unpleasant atmosphere in many town centres on weekend nights, this style of drinking is taking its toll on our health. Because we all pay taxes towards our health service, public health is taken very seriously in this country. Recently we have been warned in graphic detail about the dangers of binge drinking. We have been told that it is safe to drink a certain number of units of alcohol a week. And that it is not safe to drink them all on Friday night. Oh, and also, no-one really knows what a unit is -- a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer is the guideline, but some beers and wines are stronger than others, so it's quite hard to work out how many units you have had.

The other shaming thing about our drinking culture is that we take it on holiday with us, so the English have a reputation for being red and loud and drunken when abroad.

The government hoped that by extending opening hours, it would encourage a French-style café culture, where people drink slowly in civilised surroundings and then go quietly home. They hoped that it would encourage shops and galleries to stay open late, which would draw out an older, more easy-going crowd. It hasn't worked in my hometown. However, several pubs are starting to sell coffee and tea alongside the beer; and others are offering tapas and other snacks to help mop up the alcohol.

I've noticed that the further north in England you go, the more mixed the drinking crowd is. By this I mean that most people in town centre clubs and bars in my hometown in the south east are aged under 30. But up north, there are people in their 40s and 50s in the crowd.

You might also spot small signs in town centres saying: 'You are entering an alcohol control area.' This might mean that you can't drink alcohol at all, or it might mean that you can drink, but that the police can take your alcohol away from you. They will do this if you are behaving like a jackass, or if you appear to be underage. If you are quietly enjoying a bottle of wine in the park, they will leave you to get on with it.

It is hard to know what should be done about our weekend drinking problem -- the government might raise the age at which you are allowed to buy alcohol from 18 to 21; and I expect there will be more health campaigns, too. An increase in tax on alcohol would make regular drunken nights too expensive for lots of people. Another solution would be more interesting soft (non-alcoholic) drinks. At present, coke and lemonade and very expensive orange juice are the most common offerings. Iced tea is one idea; mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) is another. I would like to see more made of English apple juice -- every variety of apple tastes different, and much more should be made of this.

I would be interested to know how other governments have dealt with similar problems -- any offers?


Blogger Mo said...

I remember in 1990 when Glasgow was European City of Culture many pubs had extended licenses and were open till 2 or 3 in the morning. I was sitting in a pub after 1am having a coffee in a lovely friendly atmosphere. Glasgow was much more civilised that year. Since then things are just like England and we've gone back to our drinking culture. It's so ingrained it's a very hard thing to change.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Rebelde said...

In my country we drink more beer per capita than Germans, which makes the breweries very powerful about what laws are passed... the thing is that car accidents are the first cause of death, even bigger than heart problems. Government now has passed a law that doesn't allow alcohol to be advertised in any way in sports stadiums or arenas, and say goodbye to tv and radio ads, time will tell if that's effective or not

7:07 PM  
Blogger Jock said...

In Brazil the alcohol is only permited to older then 18, but this law it´s NEVER respected. We don´t have to close the bar and nightclub anytime, and the car accidents that are caused by the drinking are growing.
He have a big campaign on TV about "Not to drive when drunk", but I think it´s not workig so good.
I think we should shock the people even more, showing discusting pictures taken from the accidents, so maybe the people can be more conscious about it.

7:24 PM  
Blogger NEWtwinS said...

In New Zealand we have heaps of adds on TV (most pretty graphic) of people crashing etc from drinking and driving. Its gotten to the point where the government is now thinking about raising the drinking age. It's 18 at the moment but they're thinking of putting it back up to 21.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Cass said...

When I was working at a London bar I really enjoyed that 11pm closing time. Plenty of time for me to go to a late bar and enjoy a pint too!

I don't think raising the drinking age will help much. I think one of the reasons France and other European countries have a healthy drinking culture is the place of alcohol in the home. If young people are introduced to alcohol as part of the family meal, and are used to drinking in moderation before they turn 18, it reduces the urge to 'rebel' and be adult by binge drinking.

In Australia we had an anti-binge drinking ad campaign that showed young people making asses of themselves when they were drunk, and their friends taking about what losers they were. Not sure if it helped much though. From my experience, our pub culture is a little more chill but our youth binge drinking problem is just as bad.

2:44 AM  
Blogger 20 something said...

I don't think theres any easy way to change peoples attitudes to drinking. One of the problems may be the hours we work. I know a lot of very hard working people that just want to let lose on Fridays and Saturdays. Thats not to say they cuase trouble, but they do get very drunk most weekends. The other contributing factor maybe the weather, maybe if it was warmer some people may want to do something a bit more active rather than sit in a pub and get drunk?

4:54 PM  
Blogger Bar Bar Butt said...

In my country, Korea (ROK) aka (Hankook), we have a very positive drinking culture. Alcoholism is encouraged, and alcohol is cheap. If one were so inclined, one could get a bottle of soju for 1000 won (1 U.S. dollar), and one would have no problem drinking one's face off consuming only one bottle of the soju. If you don't want to drink you should have stayed at home because, if your senior(anyone older than you) offers you a shot of the soju, you're all but obligated to to drink it. There's nothing shameful about staggering down the street and holding your male friend's hand (two men), and then if you have to puke, your male friend will stop with you, and instead of kicking you like an American friend would do, he will pat your back and console you until you're ready to go. You can do this in public around hundreds of people.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Jock said...

I think this should be a subject of a future topic!

9:41 PM  
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