I walked into the Uni ( English slang for University) store to buy a planner and have a look around when something struck me with a huge degree of confused. There were sandwiches, soda, snacks, and all sorts of things to chow down on at the Uni store that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. But then I saw, in the corner, in plain illuminated view, beer. Yes. I saw beer. 12 packs, singles, and everything else. There was Beer at the University Store – along with hoodies, shirts, and other school logo marked merchandise.
I had been told that the drinking culture in the UK (and Europe) was very different from what I was used to in the states. However, living it [everyday] makes one understand the difference.
For one, wine, beer, ale, and cider (cider has alcohol here) are a common part of University life. Aside from the students drinking, its common for Professors to join, or rather, invite students for an after class drink at the local pub. Its perfectly normal that after sitting in a lecture for two hours talking about “ontology”, a class would indulge in some beer. This is also the norm after a conference or symposium. Everyone to the pub!
Two, the drinking age is 18. 3 years younger than the US. I’m only 21, and legally speaking, I have only been drinking in the US for several months (I turned 21 in march). I get here, and most students that are in their last year of undergrad have a good deal of experience, much more than me of course [cough-cough]. It felt a bit counter-intuitive to think that it would be wise for students to be able to go to a pub right when they start Uni, but hey, the pub crawls don’t seem to interfere with national graduation rates. There is obviously much more trust in youth here than back home.
I have no idea why or how, but when I did go to the pub w/ classmates or friends, it wasn’t to get drunk, party, pick up girls, or anything that felt like typical America. Maybe it was the air, but it felt different (and cheaper than NYC or London). There’s something about the culture around drinking in the UK that isn’t so abrasive, or threatening, but inviting and a way to socialize. Alcohol doesn’t seem to have a taboo attached to it, or some hidden deliciousness of the forbidden fruit, its just a part of life – for everyone.
The pub is a place to socialize, meet people (met a cool Irish crew at a club/bar), and just relax. Last week I went to the pub to watch the Man U v. Man City game, and it was great. Aside from the back and forth between fans, there was this huge sense of camaraderie. You don’t get to know someone in class, on walks around campus, or even during breakfast. You get to know them at the pub.
Weird? Hell yeah. Cool? An even bigger hell yeah. I can only imagine what it would have been like to go for a drink after my Vera Seminar at John Jay, or even better, waiting in line at the John Jay bookstore and grabbing a beer for the way out.
Oh, another thing. Walking outside, drink in hand – completely legal. England, you’re cool.