Thursday, September 25, 2008

Foreign language skills needed

When visiting the UK, Americans will undoubtedly want to experience an "Authentic British Pub". Of course. Why else would you even go? Never mind. The point is that if you think it is going to be just like an American Bar, you are in for a surprise.

I just read a section of a book written by a British author, and got much of the information for this post from this book. (I tried to change a few words here and there.) I mention this so that you don't attack me in case what follows turns out to be a pack of lies. Here's what to expect.

1. The first thing you will notice if you are simply wanting to go for a pint is that you can sit at a table until hell freezes over and never get a pint. This is because, in the main, British pubs don't have wandering waitresses in skimpy outfits who constantly hustle drinks. Don't know why. The Brits would sell a zillion more drinks if they didn't make you line up at the bar and plead with them to give them your money. So, one must assume the first difference between a pub and an American bar is that the Bar knows it is there primarily to take a lot of your money and to push drinks at you as fast as humanly possible. Admittedly, this story may just be a cruel hoax, perpetrated by said British author as an attempt at humor. It certainly doesn't seem logical to make your customers wait on themselves like that. If only because they won't want to do it very often.

2. Conversely, because you have no waitress, there is no waitress to tip everytime she brings a round of beer. (Although, in the UK, that would be called lager, probably.) You don't tip the bartender either. I know, I know. At those dry bars set up in the corner of wedding receptions, you are used to stuffing money in the big jar as you wait for him to hand you a bottle. Like he deserves a buck for taking the cap off for you, right? But in the UK, apparently there is no such tip jar. Very strange. And very cool indeed.

3. Don't be looking for frozen strawberry daiquiris.  Pub barmen, as a rule, are not into mixing up exotic drinks. Nor are they likely to have a huge recipe book behind the bar as you find in the U.S. Beer. Wine. Vodka. Gin. Tequila. Whiskey (which they will spell whisky). And take it with a minimum of stuff in it, ok? Orange juice. Tonic water. A few other things. Not many.

4. Don't expect to be able to run a tab automatically. You pay as you go in Britain, unless you are known. Although, oddly, they will often take checks. But they will spell it ...... never mind.

5. Good news! Many pubs serve food. Actual real food, not just chicken wings in hot sauce or little beenie weenie sausages. No. Sandwiches. Hearty sandwiches. Yo! And pasties and OF COURSE....Fish and Chips. The bad news: it ain't free. Just as you would have to pay for a real meal in an American bar. But the Brits don't set out a bunch of free stuff for you pig out on, either.

Here are some words you had better learn if you are going to a pub or fast food place in the UK:

1. Bevvy (absolutely nothing to do with quail.)
2. Chippy (not a cheap whore.)
3. "My Shout" (actually, Americans don't have to learn this term since they would never do it.)
4. Scrumpy (hint: cider in the UK is never, or hardly ever, non-alcoholic. Definitely not what you think it is. And Scrumpy is the worst/best of the lot.
5. Starter (nothing to do with automobile parts or foot races.)
6. Take-away (not related to subtraction exercises)

And, of course, there are a few words that you as an American need to refrain from using. They won't know what you mean:

1. Appetizer (it simply isn't)
2. Bus Boy/bussing (simply not known)
3. Doggy bag (simply not used)
4. Tailgate party (simply not done)
5. Wet bar (a bar is a bar is a bar to a Brit)
6. 86 it (That will draw you some quizzical looks.)

But, holy hot tamales, is it ever fun. Worth the flight over there.


  1. Oh but wouldn't it be a blast to use those terms, explain there meanings, and get the Brits to use them? That's the beauty of useless information right there!

  2. From a couple posts ago:

    "I forgot about your upcoming trip."

    It's not anytime soon. Most likely in 3-5 years time. I'm most concerned about surviving the job long enough to keep my bonus, dispensed in March, to go to Florida in March to see family and baseball spring training. And, if there are any Britishspeak blog fans in Fla it would be lovely to meet up, just speak up.

    Anyhow, regarding today's post, thanks for that. I've not read that in travel books, except for the action being at the bar, not the tables, as far as service and socialization goes, so - most helpful, that. However I'm stumped on the "my shout". Very interesting.

  3. Yes Chica. I love the way your evil mind works. ;)

    Redbeard: well, at least you know you're going. Some of us (and we know who we are) will never be abused by a Brit. At least not in the UK.

    There is at least one delightful follower and friend of BritishSpeak in Florida.

    Don't ever say "My shout!" in a British pub. Just don't.

  4. I went to Britain a few years ago and was somewhat disappointed that I was never served a warm beer. Not that I think serving beer warm is a good idea, but it's something I also associated with British pubs (and something us Aussies may laugh at on occassion). Don't know if it was because we went to more touristy places, but was disappointed.
    The language differences are very funny though. Was interesting because in Australia we have some of the British (particularly shouting drinks) and American sayings and naturally, a whole bunch of our own. Though the American ones are mostly picked up through tv (and I learnt "86" working for an American-chain restaurant).

  5. Oh dear! Actually I quite like the post ( and the disclaimer). As for queuing in a British pub-someone has got to be joking, its about the only place in the country you can escape the damn things!

  6. As Don says, there are no queues in a pub - you just have to fight for yourself. But you do tip the person behind the bar by saying "have one yourself". It's not meant or interpreted literally all the time. No jar though, or unusual if there is.

    Some pubs these days are pub/restaurants or "gastropubs" (what a word!) where you could expect waiter/waitress service at least for food.

    Whiskey and whisky are two different drinks, the first from Ireland and the second from Scotland. Important.

    Scrumpy is hard to come by these days, really only in the west country. It's a naturally made cider. It comes from the word scrumping - to steal apples, a popular countryside pursuit (or, some say, collecting windfalls).

    Redbeard, we're meeting in Winchester some day for a drink are we not? Your shout :)

  7. Personally, I just get a few crates from the cash and carry and get pissed in my house. Fuck socialising. What I do is cheaper and as for company, there's nothing wrong with watching late night soft pr0n on the telly.


  8. that is all pretty funny, and quite accurate in my mind. There are places where you can get fancy drinks, but generally not in a pub.

    There's a chain - wetherspoons where you can get them. There's also never and music played in a wetherspoons.

  9. @Erin: I think if you order "beer" you will probably receive what they call "bitter" - dark brown, slightly warm. Lighter, American-style (or Aussie style) "beer" is really called lager in the UK, and is usually much stronger than you are used to. In America, I think we would probably call this "Malt Liquor" because of it's strength. I'm sure I will get corrected if I am wrong.

    @ the tfln don: (Love the name btw!) Yes, technically it isn't an official "queue" but... to this silly American, if you have to wait for others "not in line" to be served before you are served, it is pretty much quacking like a queue. If I may say so. :)

    So far away you are, my friend. Thank you for stopping by. I hope we see you again!
    @a.: Yes. I read about the gastropubs. I was only trying not to use that word if I didn't have to. But yes, some have quite good chefs and are worth seeking out. But au contrare mon petite disruptaire: Whiskey is in Ireland and the USA, whisky is the spelling in the UK and Canada. Not different drinks. Only different spellings. Of course, there are many variations on the drink itself, but still the same stuff no matter how you spell it. Ha! Yes. Yes, I DO dare!

    Indeed Scrumpy is really explosive cider from your West. Although, if you go even further west (say, North Carolina) it is called Moonshine. :)

    I certainly hope you and RB get together. You'll have a grand time at the pub drinking Scrumpy.
    @Qelqoth: It bears repeating: The sight of a drunk Welshman eating his third chip butty while washing it down with with warm beer is a sight (and sound) to behold. The milky spittle that runs down your unshaven chin and drips on your already-soiled shirt is enough to gag a maggot, as we are fond of saying here in the colonies. And, please, never get your teeth fixed - they add so much to the ambiance of the overall experience.

    Thank you for stopping by, my red-eyed friend. I am happy (and mildly surprised) to see you haven't yet died of your excess. Next shout's on you, btw. I know you have the money from your under-the-counter drug enterprise. :)

    @Caroline: Zzzzzz day??? (Following your twitter.) Yes, many places you can get fancy drinks, but they're all in the USA. Heh. But why no music? What the hell is up with you people? First you make people "not" stand in line to get their own drink, then you don't play any music? Honkytonk or otherwise? What kind of deal is that? Pubs could use a good country band, I say. And some chicken wire to protect the piano player. Or does it not get that rowdy in your pubs? :)
    Please take notice of my new post which further explains all of this British pub protocol stuff. Or don't. You are welcome to stay on this post and take potshots at me if you like.

    Thanks again to newcomers Erin and the tfln don.

    And deepest apologies to my friend a., now basking comfortably somewhere in the South of my beloved France. Take care. :)

  10. NO, no you don't! Just don't! I've not left yet. Irish whiskey is very different from whisky. Very. And at least you might try to work out whether I'm male or female.

  11. Max says I have to apologise to him in public. So here you are Max. A public and humiliating apology.

  12. You're still wrong of course.

  13. One of these days, probably when I am visiting England, I am going to regret not reading these boring posts of yours....

  14. @a.: Thank you. You're incorrigible. :)

    @Petra: Thank's a lot. It is comments from friends like you that encourage me to hurry up and get the book finished and published. Who could resist buying such a boring book. ::Yawn:: Thanks again. P. ::Chortles:: Beats the shit of reviewing B movies, zombie breath. :)

  15. Regarding beer temperature, beer should be served at cellar temperature. For most bitters, that will be 50-55 degrees f.
    For pale, lifeless piss-like lagers, a little colder. Whereas strong beers, stouts etc, can be a few degrees warmer, it's all about real ales being living, fermenting things, they are delivered at the pub still undergoing their maturation process, and racked in the cellar to continue until ready.
    Taste is something that is temperature dependent. The colder you go, the less flavour, but if the temperature gets too high, the beer changes, and becomes stale, so will have to be poured down the drain. If you ever get served warm beer, take it back, complain.
    Lagers, and beers commonly sold in the US, (not of course, mentioning the numerous excellent microbreweries there), the big brand leaders are supplied heat treated, pasteurised, in pressurised aluminium or stainless steel kegs, or even, lowest of the low, in bulk tankers.
    We have lagers here too. And kegs. We prefer oak barrels, sigh.
    Those beers are dead. The brewing process was completed at the chemical works that made them, then the microbes that created them from the raw ingredients are killed by heat. They will develop no complex flavours. As a result of their often low alcohol content, they need to be refrigerated. And if they're served cold enough, you'll never notice how little taste there is.
    Although, there are so many variants here of real ale, many drinkers just go for the big brew companies' branded slop, because they're afraid to try anything different.
    At the pub I'll be in in about an hour, there will be at least twelve real ales, four or five lagers, guinness, then of course there are the spirits, liqueurs, wines and so forth. If you need mixy drinks with fluorescent colours and toys in them, there are many bars which will delight in serving you. They are usually in the cities. loud places. Pubs are not the place for those drinks.

  16. Most pubs play music of some description, just not wetherspoons. Just wanted to clarify... apparently - it's their thing.

  17. Soubriquet - You are a veritable font of pub information. I should have just asked you in the first place. Fascinating. I am no longer much of a partaker of the barley-juice stuff myself, having thoroughly dissipated myself in that area in younger days, but it is very interesting to me nonetheless. Thanks again.

    Caroline-It is probably a law, then: no music at the fancy drink place. Makes perfect sense. At least as much sense as not having waitresses in pubs. Thanks for your comment. :)

  18. well foreign language is such a good skill to have.



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