Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Myth of the English Pub

September 12, 2009 · No Comments

Arriving in London almost a month ago now, one aspect of the city I was looking forward to experiencing was the pub. There was the obvious allure of being able to consume alcohol legally in a pub, but also I was intrigued by the mystique surrounding English pubs. Nearly everyone I had talked to about what to do with my time in London said that it was a necessity to spend numerous evenings in pubs. One family friend went as far to say that it just is not proper to go to England and not drink in various pubs. They also told me that I would be missing out on a vital part of English culture if I would not go to various different pubs for drinking and observing. Another friend who had lived here for a roughly two years said that she would let me experience the pubs firsthand before telling me her views on pubs and how they reflect on English culture. I thought it was more of an excuse so she wouldn’t have to discuss the cultural importance of pubs.
But now that I have spent nearly a month here in London during which I have been able to visit numerous pubs, I can see why she didn’t spoil the surprise. English pubs as we think of them back home are more mythological than real. They are not ideal places of social drinking that only exist in the misty setting of England. We have very similar places back home; with the defining difference being that pub-like places back home do not have the reputation that English pubs have here. Up until I was about ten, my dad was the manager of the Knights of Columbus Club and Restaurant. In this area there was a banqueting hall, dining room, and then a bar area with tables. The last area, the bar and eating area, was what I was immediately reminded of when I entered my first pub here, the Marlborough Arms. The atmospheres are very similar, as are the styles of service. The sense of familiarity in the pubs here was one I was used to seeing at the Knights of Columbus. There were the regulars and newcomers and a general sense of welcome to anyone who dropped by for a drink. It was a spot where people would gather for major sports events and celebrations. Pubs here were like taking step back into my childhood, but now I was able to be an active participant instead of a mere observer.
Not only did the pubs remind me of a place I regularly observed as a child, but it reminds me of other places back home. There are the pubs we try to have back home, like the Market Cross Pub in Carlisle. Even though I’ve only eaten there a few times, the atmosphere there is very reminiscent of the pubs here. Once again, you have the regulars, conversations flowing freely between tables, and the sense of the pub being a communal area for watching sports and other major events. Now, I cannot say if this is just an American style of mimicking something good created by the British, or if this is just a characteristic shared by the two cultures. What I do know though, is that I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences in the pubs of London if not only for the cultural experience but also the chance to expand my knowledge of ales and ciders. From this, I do not find English pubs to be intimidating or even that mysterious. I have observed similar drinking and eating places back home and even though I did not know it at the time prepared me to have a better grasp of the English pub.

Categories: Kimberly
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