Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Pubs and Authenticity in London

September 20, 2010 · 1 Comment

Kate Fox really raised my expectations for London pubs, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that. I expected pubs full of inside jokes and obscure ales, the kind of dark, smoky environs I can imagine Sherlock Holmes drinking in (and if Robert Downey, Jr was there, too, I wouldn’t complain).

So, after reading all the other pub posts, especially, it’s pretty clear that’s not what we found. In fact, I don’t think I went to a single pub that had genuine “regulars.” Kate Fox didn’t prepare me for impromptu American pop karaoke. She certainly didn’t tell me to develop a taste for Australian, German, Dutch, and even American beers, because there are more of those than real English ales in every pub we’ve been to. And she didn’t prepare me for waitstaff that often presupposes our touristy ignorance of British customs and acts a little confused when we offer “one for yourself.”

The Marlborough Arms - personal photo

But the thing about Fox is, she didn’t prepare me for almost anything about London. I’m not saying I haven’t had a great experience in British pubs – nights out on the town are some of my best memories. Ditto my experience in London. I’ve had a great time. But I haven’t had an authentically British experience here, just like I haven’t been to any authentically British pubs. Even the ones that feel a little more authentic – like the George or the Marlborough Arms – are just cleverly disguised franchises. Like Andrew pointed out, they all have the same menu – fish ‘n’ chips and sausage and mash, printed on faux-antique paper in calligraphy. They seem designed to give the facade of authentic Englishness, while adhering to a tried-and-true modern pub business model of franchises and imported lagers.

Again, I want to be clear that I’m not complaining about pubs or about London (although I’m glad we’re not spending the whole semester here). But when I reflect on my pub experiences, enjoyable though they have been, I don’t feel that I’ve gotten an authentic British experience, just like my time in London has felt mostly like America with accents. I’m looking forward to getting to Norwich and experiencing some more authenticity – and hopefully the kinds of pubs Kate Fox can help us out with.

Categories: 2010 MaryKate · Pubs

1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 20th 2010 at 11:58

    Two words for Norwich: Fat Cat! Or another three that might suit, but for different reasons: Adam and Eve
    There are a lot more locals in Norwich because there are no non-locals outside the centre and the student districts. The Bee Hive by our house is exclusively local, which didn’t go so well when a group of Dickinsonians went there for pub quiz last year.

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