Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

How Do You Respond to “Cheers”? (And Pubs)

September 12, 2009 · 4 Comments

My time in England is almost up. I have done more reading on Roman London that I care to share with someone I would maybe like to keep as a friend. I have been to many neighborhoods in both the East and the West Ends of London. I am not only very good looking man but like to think I’m intelligent. Despite this overwhelming evidence that I would know at least something about London, I am stumped by a six letter word that nearly every single British person uses on a daily basis: “cheers”. In my time in this country, I have heard it used in no less than five different situations. For example, I recently had the following conversation with a cashier at Boots:

(I walk up)

Cashier: Cheers

(He checks my items and I hand him money)

Cashier: Cheers

(I am handed my receipt and walk away)

Cashier: Cheers

While I haven’t actually confronted a British person about this, it is astounding to realize the flexibility of a word that truly has next to little relevance in terms of its actual definition. The only problem is, that as an American whenever I’m greeted with the prospect of responding to “cheers”, I usually come miles short of saying anything intelligent/intelligible. I instead find myself in the simply perfect situation of mumbling something and proceeding to exit as quickly as possible. My guess is I still have a lot to learn. I can only imagine how such a word got to be such that it can be used for literally every situation, but the easiest guess to make is it originated from pub culture in England.

In terms of drinking, socializing, and the combination of the two, I feel like England and most of Europe are light-years ahead of us. In the United States, we have come under the unfortunate situation that drinking has become very much like a forbidden fruit for anyone who is legally prohibited to consume alcohol. Rather than just acknowledge that alcohol exists, we Americans in general treat it like it is something that should never be done by teenagers at any time, which of course then makes it thousands of times more desirable to do. When we are finally able to do it as young adults, we make the mistake of centering entire events around it, making it difficult to casually drink.

In my time in London pubs, I have seen quite a difference in their drinking culture to its American counterpart. The first and most interesting difference is the time in which people go to pubs. While in America it is generally seen as uncool to go to a bar any earlier than 10pm, large crowds of people in England are already drinking outside of pubs as early as 4pm. Already, this signifies that people are not so much interested in getting drunk than just having a few drinks. The other major element that seems to warped in American drinking culture that the British have also got right is the social element. In the United States, bars have been turned into places to meet people romantically (or not so romantically). English pubs on the other hand seem to be more open socially. On a clear day, you can typically see just as many people outside of a pub mingling as there are people inside. Additionally there doesn’t seem to be any strict groups, as people just float from one group to the next at will. Because all of the forbidden nature of alcohol has been removed from their perception, British people can instead enjoy both nice ale and the company of friends without sacrificing one for the other. Whether America catches on seems yet to be determined, but in the meantime I will gladly take advantage of the generally more pleasant British pub culture. Cheers.

Categories: Paul
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4 responses so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 13th 2009 at 02:50

    Interesting observations. Not that I want to encourage excessive pub going, but you should, during your time in Norwich, compare pub to club culture. The news is filled with the horrors of binge drinking and violence in clubs (you should avoid late-night clubbing in Prince of Wales St in Norwich where violence is more common).

  •   russella // Sep 13th 2009 at 04:47

    I’ve been thinking of this a bit too, and I think it holds a similar context (although different meaning) to the german word ‘bitter.’ The word means please; however, it can be used a few different ways such you’re welcome, certainly, and of course bugger off you sod. From what I’ve read, cheers doesn’t so much have a set meaning, but rather it is an expression/acknowledgement of satisfaction. That is unless it is used in a sarcastic manner (as noted with bitter as well).

  •   Karl // Sep 21st 2009 at 05:00

    I think you mean “bitte” not “bitter,” Russell.

  •   seattle dui attorney // Feb 1st 2010 at 16:09

    Those are some very interesting observations.

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