Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. A**hole that yelled at me on Tottenham Court

September 12, 2010 · 3 Comments

I’ve been fascinated by the effects of alcohol ever since I read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in my freshman year, the same time I was introduced to college drinking social norms. By day students go to class and make self-aware, well thought out comments and criticisms of society, and by night drink and do all manner of scandalous things to gossip about in the morning (obviously not everyone, but a sizeable portion). We’ve been talk about the British social dis-ease, but I wonder if American social customs are really all that different.

Kate Fox notes that our expectations of alcohol’s effects are cultural rather than purely biological (261). England is known for its aggressive drunks and that expectation, and possibly a little national pride, is a self fulfilling prophecy. As the drunk insane asylum manager from everyone’s favorite show, Bedlam, says as he stumbles around the stage, “We’re English. It’s what we do” to which the audience responded with a proud cheer. For whatever reason, boisterous drunkness is a major source of identity for England, even if it’s also a symptom of the inability to socialize without a lubricant to put you in a liminal state. As a result, while Latin American countries associate alcohol with more peaceful states, England gets bars in Covent Square Garden that forbid the wearing of football colors to prevent bar fights.

I’ve tried to visit a few different types of pubs, and I’ve found so far that no matter the atmosphere, the clientele, or even the level of drunkenness, when it comes to alcohol the Brits are not the friendliest bunch (You see what I did there? Understatement. I’m so assimilated). I’ve managed to get over the occasional obvious refusals of service when pubs close at an oddly specific time if they see a group of five Americans coming toward them. The slightly more expensive pubs I’ve gone to have not been as bad. I usually just get a server who refuses to make any form of polite small talk or eye contact with me, unless he is joining in the group glare that I often receive from everyone in the room when I speak, stand in the wrong place, or exist. The younger, louder pubs were pretty nice because fewer people could hear my accent and it was too loud for me to hear angry throat clears. Unfortunately, the minute I got outside, a few drunk men took it upon themselves to fix that by yelling obscenities and telling me to go back to America (In their defense, I think I might have offended them when I was praising the benefits of Razor Scooters as they walked past. Hot button issue).

During the day, besides the occasional angry glare when I use my 6 inch voice instead of my 4 inch voice in the library, people have been generally friendly, which leads me to believe that Fox is right about the British extremes in behavior.  They’re excessively mild and polite (Jekyll) until they drink a potion that makes them grow fur on their hands and have a strong desire to beat me to death with a cane.

Categories: 2010 Jesse
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3 responses so far ↓

  •   hatzopod // Sep 12th 2010 at 22:01

    To me, a drunk Brit is a nice Brit. I have not had a bad experience with a fellow drinker at any pub I’ve been to. Actually, I’ve had a couple really great conversations with people I’ve met about what I am doing in England and how it compares to America. These usually start out by them asking me where I am from, me saying America, and them saying “no shit.” I think maybe its because I totally stay out of the way. I say as few words as possible when I order my drinks and only talk when I am invited to. Maybe thats not the way to do it, maybe I should be a little bit more aggressive, but so far I’ve accomplished a lot and haven’t gotten any hard times.

  •   maryc // Sep 13th 2010 at 05:00

    I can’t say I’ve experienced too much hostility from drunk Brits. However, I will agree that when I’m with a larger group, we tend to receive stares, glares, and under-the-breath moans. I don’t want to judge and say “all Brits stereotype Americans,” but at times, I feel they may be. To counter this I try to adopt their pub behavior. This includes such guidelines Fox described, such as: queueing at the pub counter, buying rounds and a drink for the bartender, and, of course, trying to be less noisy and avoiding drawing attention to myself.

    I think your outgoing personality is great, Jesse. And honestly, I support you in your methods of interacting with Brits in pubs. It could become a great experiment! Haha.

  •   battilaj // Sep 14th 2010 at 09:04

    Mary, I agree with you. I absolutely don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about British attitudes towards Americans. My observations have been based on a few of my personal experiences, and most people have not yelled obscenities at me.

    I also think that adopting pub behavior and staying out of the way a little, like David and Mary mention, are good words to live by. I just worry about what that means for immigrants and assimilation. I got stares without even saying a word sometimes. Are former immigrants supposed to keep their mouths shut and ignore their heritage to keep from getting yelled at?

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