Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

After A Pint, It Doesn’t Matter Where You’re From

September 20th, 2010 · No Comments

While many of my fellow students have lamented in their blogs that they feel least comfortable and most like they have to behave like the British at pubs, I feel completely the opposite.  Yes, there have been some pubs that I’ve wandered into and definitely felt like I was completely out of place but I never felt like it was because I was an American – it was almost always because of my age.  The only time I have ever just left a pub because I felt so uncomfortable was after we went to the Globe and we were by far the youngest patrons to wander into this particular pub.  Besides that one instance, my experience with pubs has been overwhelmingly positive.

I openly admit that what I know about beer and cider could fit in a teacup.  I am most definitely no connoisseur of alcoholic beverages – I know what I think tastes good and what makes me wrinkle my nose and that is about it.  This lack of knowledge has led me to become one of those people who every time they walk up to the bar to order has to ask about every single one of the items on tap.  While I thought this would probably to trying to any bartender’s patience, I have found that so long as its done in a friendly manner pub workers are happy to help me find something that my undistinguished palate will enjoy.  I experienced the pinnacle of helpful bartender at The Court on Tottenham Court Road.  The last time I was there the bartender spent ten minutes with me just figuring out what exactly I would like and even though it was incredibly busy, she did not once look impatient or try to rush me along.  While I am clearly an American and completely uneducated on the finer points of British beverages I was treated with respect and patience and is exactly why The Court has become my favorite pub.

I have visited several pubs that I quite like – the George on Fleet Street, the Marlborough Arms, and the Rising Sun, to name a few, and they all have different positive qualities to recommend themselves to me (the George has Murphy’s, the Marlborough Arms is homey and the evening bartenders are friendly and recognize regulars, and the Rising Sun has a quintessentially British atmosphere).  However, while these are all good pubs with good drinks and friendly service, they are not great.  The difference for me, as an American, is the degree to which I feel continually welcomed.  At many of the pubs there is the sense that as a patron, while I am welcome to come and enjoy myself, I have an obligation to be quiet and to stay at my table and not mingle with the other patrons.  Kate Fox points out that pubs, unlike American bars, are not places to go meet new people, but even the possibility of accidentally interacting with anyone besides who is in my group is terrifying at most of the pubs I have been to.  And this fear is not reserved for me as an outsider – other English people are terrified to interact with their neighbors, even if it is an interaction as small as trying to fit through a small space to get to the counter.  At the Marlborough Arms I have seen patrons walk 15 feet out of their way to avoid asking people to scoot their chairs in 3 inches to get to the bar.  This is what makes The Court so unique.  Maybe it’s the loud American music always blasting from the speakers or the younger crowd that tends to frequent it, but The Court is a place where this “social dis-ease” is eradicated.  I do not have to live in fear of asking someone to scoot in so that I can get by (a lot of the time fellow patrons anticipate my journey by and move out of the way without prompting – a gesture that usually involves a friendly smile and a “cheers”) and where eye contact with someone I don’t know doesn’t make me a pariah.

I find pub culture absolutely fascinating and I am so sad that it took me so long to find a pub where I feel so at home.  My time in London has helped me develop an understanding of what exactly I need to do at a pub and how I ought to behave and I am hopeful that I’ll find a place in Norwich that proves to be just as friendly and light hearted as The Court.

Tags: Pubs · 2010 Amy

You Can Find Me in the Pub, Bottle Full of Bub…

September 20th, 2010 · 3 Comments

              When I first got here, I didn’t really understand why Englanders were so big on pubs. All you do is stand around and drink, and then by the time you get tipsy, the last round bell rings and then what? Do you go home? Do you go to another pub? Do you go to a club to party? I guess because of the fact that in the NYC nights out with friends don’t end until about five the next morning, being kicked out of a pub at 11PM to go home and go to sleep felt a little weird and incomplete. It was also strange because I would never eat and drink at the same time. Pub food was surprisingly really tasty to me, especially hot wings and chips.
             I agree with George Orwell when he says that the “atmosphere” of a pub is what appeals to people the most. I’ve never been much of a bar type of girl back in the states, but I’ve definitely learned to appreciate and quite enjoy going to pubs once in a while. Generally, a pub that I decide to go to on a particular night varies with my mood and the atmosphere of the club. The three pubs in our area that I most frequently visit are The Marlborough Arms, The Court, and The Rising and they all have three entirely different atmospheres. The Marlborough Arms is fairly quiet compared to the other two, and fosters a mixed crowd in terms of age. In my opinion, the Marlborough has the best tasting pub food and the best service out of all three (their service isn’t even that great, so you can imagine that of the other two). If I am seeking a simple evening out with some friends to have food over a pint or a pitcher of Pimms, then Marlborough is the place for me. I love that fact that it isn’t rowdy and crowded and every time that I’ve walked in I was able to find a table, and kick back and relax without having to scream over other people’s voices and loud music. I actually also really enjoy the completely random music selection at the Marlborough. Rachel, Jamie and Jesse and I really enjoyed having dinner the other night while singing along to “Bootylicious” by Destiny’s Child (click song title for lyrics and then imagine us singing along haha)

                The Court and The Rising Sun slightly different. The Court caters to a younger audience but I am always stuck having to push my way through throngs of people just to get a drink. I’ve never had the food there, but from Sarah’s love of their Cheddar and Bacon fries I guess it’s pretty good. The Court has an upstairs component, which can make a night out with some friends a bit more personal, but you still have to scream over the extremely loud, but entertaining music selection. The Rising Sun also attracts an older audience and is always jammed packed every time I’ve gone there. The service sucks, the food isn’t that great, and the music is okay. So I guess The Rising Sun is my last resort if I’m looking for a pint and nowhere else is open.
             Overall, my pub experience has been a good one. I’ve never had any types of altercations with anyone. There was this one time when I asked the waiter for a take away container for some wings that I didn’t finish and when she told me that they didn’t have take away containers I gave her the “what do you mean you don’t have take away containers” look and she probably got offended. Then I realized that it is a pub, not a restaurant, and that people usually finish their food at a pub. Yes, I felt really stupid afterwards, but the waiter smiled and wished me a good night when we were leaving, so I guess it was all good.

Tags: 2010 Melissa

The Requisite Pub Blog: Comparing and Contrasting

September 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I’ll admit that I have not been to a wide variety of pubs, so I’ll have to do my best to draw conclusions from the experience I do have.  I have genuinely enjoyed the ones I have been to, we’ve just been so darn busy here and I’m always so tired that I don’t go out very often.  I disagree with some of my classmates who have been arguing that pubs are overpriced and that the food isn’t worth it.  I actually think some of the pubs have pretty good deals.  At some you can get a sandwich and chips or a sandwich and a drink for under four pounds, which is more than you can say for Pret or Sainsbury’s, depending on what you get there.  The food might not be the best, and certainly not the healthiest, but on occasion I enjoy a bit of grease, and I especially like the part where you order and they bring you the food and you don’t have to do anything.  Also there are chips (fries) which are my favorite food in the world.

I’ll start by comparing pubs at lunch and pubs at dinner.  I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to get into pubs at lunchtime; it’s a lot less crowded.  When it isn’t crowded, I feel sure that I’m not intruding or bothering anyone.  Walking into a crowded pub at dinnertime or at night can be awkward because you’re unsure if all the people there already know each other or if you’ll be taking someone’s regular table or chair.  It can be a bit unwelcoming.

The exception to this that I’ve found is the Court.  The Court seems to cater specifically to a young, student crowd with their meal deals and discount card.  Everyone seems to go there with their own group of friends and doesn’t really pay anyone else any mind.  I don’t get the impression that there are “regulars” there.  Students can be a bit transient.  The consequences of this younger crowd, however, are extra loud American pop music, questionable wardrobes, and general drunken disorderliness.  The times I’ve gone there I’ve had a good time, despite the fact that I have to shout to be heard and worry that I’m going to get beer spilled on me at any moment.

I agree with George Orwell that pubs where it is quiet and you can hear yourself talk are preferable.  The Marlborough Arms has this advantage over the Court.  The music is softer and there is less drunkenness.  I feel generally welcome there too, although the crowd is a bit older and I do get the feeling that there are regulars, most of whom are British.  I think the regular thing contributes to the different level of classiness, though.  However, I also agree with Orwell that you can’t win on all counts – the food at the Marlborough Arms is more expensive.

I think as a group we are beginning to get the hang of the buying drinks in rounds thing, and some people remember to ask to buy the bartender a drink, although they usually refuse.  Still, I’m not sure that we will ever fully be able to pass for being English in a pub, and I think that although we have knowledge of the general pub rules, each individual pub has its own hidden rules and traditions.  I’m hoping that perhaps this will get easier when we go out with our roommates at UEA who are actually British.

Tags: 2010 Kaitlin

One Last Call for Alcohol

September 15th, 2009 · No Comments

Even though I haven’t yet tried it, it cracks me up that I, at age nineteen, can walk into a pub and order a drink. Additionally, I can take that drink in its glass outside, where I’m likely to smash, lose, or run away with a perfectly good glass, and at places like festivals and street vendors, I can order beer or cider and carry it around in an open container!

As a non-drinker, I was a bit worried about how I would handle pub culture, as well as how my peers, both American and British, would participate in it. I have to say, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised. I think my newfound comfort with pub culture is both a function of the more laid-back attitude towards drinking in Britain, as well as appreciating the fact that most people I regularly hang out with in the group aren’t looking to get trashed. Additionally, however, I think I also appreciate the pubs themselves. Unlike George Orwell, I don’t think I’ve found my perfect pub, nor do I think I ever will, since my perfect pub would probably only serve soda, all meals would be slathered in cheese and decidedly unhealthy, the bathrooms would be Cloroxed on the hour, and the contents of my iPod would serve as the juke box. Despite not liking drinking or rowdy people, the permeating smell of beer-soaked carpet, or much of the music played at various volumes depending on the venue, I quite like the few pubs I’ve frequented so far.

My first experience in a British pub was on my first full day here. My friend and I popped into the Lord Stanley in Camden for two reasons: One, this is the pub my favorite band got their start in, and two, I needed somewhere to be sick. Despite not being in the best of moods (as well as being distracted by the fact that Coldplay used to perform right there on that piano…I am aware I’m a nerd), I was quite interested by the fact that the other patrons didn’t seem to think much of knocking a few beers back at lunchtime and going back to work a bit loud, as well as the fact that you could order a decent selection of full meals in a place primarily for drinks.

Since that day, I’ve mostly stuck to the Marlborough Arms and the Court with the other members of Humanities 309, as well as a few stops at the Fitzroy. I think we started coming to the Arms mostly because it’s the closest pub to the Arran House. It smells decidedly of stale beer, but the food is good, the bartenders put up with our Americanness, and the music is quiet enough so I can still hear it most of the time, but I don’t need to shout over it, either. Like many others, I enjoy the Arms when I just want a meal and a talk, though we’ve been permitted to get a bit loud in the corner when we so choose. The interior seems to be, as Orwell put it, “the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century,” though perhaps the Arms isn’t as authentic as many of the other more historic pubs we’ve been in this month. The Court, by contrast, caters to a younger crowd by having louder music and pool tables, as well as a more modern-looking interior and a designer cocktails menu. In America, I probably wouldn’t go near a place like the Court simply because of its loudness and the fact that people spill out onto the pavement and carry the rowdiness outside, but I’ve actually had some of my favorite nights there, which is as much a credit to the place and the carefree yet still somewhat reserved behavior of the British drunks I’ve seen as it is to the people on the trip I’ve partied there with.

In Watching the English, Kate Fox spends one of her longest chapters discussing British pub culture and customs, which was one of my favorites so far. Because Grace did the finer points such justice in her post, and because I already packed said book deep inside my suitcase, I will simply state that I have yet to see some of the behaviors she outlines. I did once get yelled at for not minding the “invisible queue,” and I don’t think most of us have yet mastered the act of ordering a round for the group and then working out who owes what later (not to mention offering the bartender a drink as tip), but I don’t think I’ve seen any “regulars” that the rules don’t apply to, nor have I heard any ritual arguments and camaraderie between regulars and the bartenders. Perhaps this is because the pubs we frequent are in the center of London and move probably thousands of different people through their doors each year. But in Norwich, I think the pubs might have a slightly different flavor, and I hope to do some of my own anthropological observing in order to understand most of what Fox has written.

I told myself before I came that I was open to the idea of becoming a social drinker while I was here, since it’s part of the culture, but I didn’t expect to want to. Not only have actually enjoyed the sips of friends’ drinks I’ve tried (surprising, since my number-one reason for not drinking has been dislike of taste), but I find the attitude towards drinking so laid-back that now since I’m not pressured to drink or ostracized for not drinking (thank you, group), I’m willing to give it a go. Now I see myself ordering ciders or Pimm’s and lemonades sometime in the near future, but I think because I have little to no experiences with alcohol, I have to be careful how much even one drink would affect me. Either way, I’ve embraced what I’ve seen of the pub culture so far with open arms, surprising myself, and I’ve enjoyed going out to the pubs almost every night for either a meal and a chat or a bit rowdier of a time more than I ever could have expected.

Tags: Pubs · Chelsea

London Pubs

September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment

     My idea of the “perfect public house” is not one with a fireplace (this is, clearly, a safety hazard) or China mugs or different bars (this is, clearly, a social hazard). My ideal pub is by no means quiet and I can always order dinner there (but one must consider that, on a student’s stipend, “dinner” oftentimes means “chips”).

     Like George Orwell, I have yet to stumble across my own “perfect pub,” but I’ve come close. The Court, located on Tottenham Court Road, has the atmosphere I’m after. The music is loud, and usually American, but encourages no dancing (Andrew Russell and Megan Liberty – who will dance anywhere – are excluded). Customers stand out on the corner with pints and fags in hand, puffing and sipping away and enjoying the views of the bustling city that closes around 7 on a Saturday night.

     Note: When in Londinium… talk to strangers in pubs. Bum a light or ask or just strike up conversations. You’ll find that “pissed” Londoners are generally much more amicable than sober ones (unless football is on, in which case you should avoid the pub scene entirely if you value your life). You’ll meet people like Pete – an unnaturally animated world-traveler with no regard for personal space – or Mikey – the green-clad, leprechaun hat-wearing music student who holds a stuffed duck (plush, not real) and finds endless amusement at squawking it in your ear.   

     Though The Court has the atmosphere, the people, and the music that I’m looking for, the food at The Marlborough Arms is superior, and their White Zinfandel is 25 pence cheaper. For the health-freak, vegetarian foodie, ordering the Meze platter at the Marlborough Arms is a must. For roughly 8 quid, you can sample: greek olives; warm, seasoned pita bread with oil and aged balsamic vinegar; marinated artichoke hearts; feta cheese; roasted red peppers and; an amazingly smooth hummous sprinkled with pine nuts. Not exactly the classic bar food one might be used to.

     The history of the Museum Tavern pub, however, trumps all others. It is not a particularly memorable pub, though the Strongbow is good (but then, where isn’t the Strongbow good in the UK?) The atmosphere is dull, there is no music and no one speaks much louder than a completely inaudible whisper (Note: Loud Americans will receive dirty looks), but, alas, it is here that Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto.

     So if you find yourself in London again, or perhaps for the first time, do go out and experience the pub scene for yourself. It is an integral element of British culture, and a valuable source of entertainment, Squawking ducks, leprechaun hats and Andrew Russell’s dancing included.

Tags: Pubs · Anya