How to Properly Drink in a British Pub: a Guide for American Soldiers in World War II
Have you ever tried drinking with the British? Properly. What can and/or cannot be said to a drunk Scot in a kilt? How to spend time in a classic pub and not get stabbed? All of this is told by the amazingly straightforward instructional film from 1943, How to Behave in Britain. In it, an experienced beer lover Virgil tells ordinary American soldiers how to drink and make friends with the British during the War, so that later it would not be too embarrassing.
During World War II, a huge number of American soldiers visited Britain – about two million troops. And this led to a serious clash of cultures: crowds of Americans, behaving like drunk boy scouts, often provoked the anger of locals. The Brits, in turn, responded to Yankees with ostracism, or even with a good “Scottish kiss” in a bar brawl. In 1943, when the contingent of American forces was at its maximum, the US Military Information Administration decided to create a special training film that was supposed to help soldiers not to goof off. Well, or at least not bring the dialogue of cultures to a drunken brawl.
Burgess Meredith, an Air Force captain, who played a major role, gives a special charm to the film. He is acting a soldier by the name Virgil, who is a kind and more experienced friend who gives practical advice about life in Britain. Typically, the film begins with the most important: behavior in the pub.
So how do you behave in a pub?
Here are some basic rules:
Pub – this is not your saloon!
An English pub is not a saloon, Virgil warns immediately. People come here not to get drunk, but to sit in a friendly atmosphere and chat. Of course, in the process of this, someone will necessarily attack, but this is already a common thing.
Virgil advises showing respect for the pub. For example, the place called Taylor Walkers, in which he offers us to come and check is as old as the United States of America. And even longer. Many generations of locals have come here. The grandfathers and great-grandfathers of today’s visitors have been drinking here for hundreds of years.
Get used to drinking a warm ale
Virgil warns: the British do not drink beer, that is common for Americans, but ale. And they drink it at room temperature, not cold. Obviously, you will not get used to this the first time. The main thing, knowing about this – do not spit it out. Another important tip: in Britain, in the 40s you may not be completely understood if you ask the pub owner for “beer.” If you want to fit in at least a little bit, ask for “bitter” or “mild”. The first is quite strong, the second is softer, just for a summer evening.
Loser pays for next beer
A simple rule, that might save your teeth. Games are a must-have in ye olde English pub: sometimes quiet dashboard games, and sometimes noisy darts. The main thing not to forget: if you undertake to play and lose, the locals will wait for you to buy them a drink. But they themselves, in case of loss, will not be greedy. Good advice from Virgil: do not know how to play darts – just wait and see how the Englishmen do it. It’s fun and entertaining.
Just leave them alone
Wandering around the pub, our sophisticated Virgil asks to pay attention to a couple of elderly subjects who smoke pipes, talk about something. Ironically, the American calls them “philosophers” and asks not to disturb them. The British, after drinking, like to think melancholy over the problems of being and politics. They do not need a young drunk soldier as a company.
The same thing with newspaper readers. As ironic as that may seem, many Englishmen come to the pub to be left alone. Read a newspaper, keep quiet over a beer. No need to bother them, and even more so to look at their pages – they will be furious in earnest.
Share American Cigarettes
During the war, the Brits had some troubles with tobacco. Cigarettes were at a high price, especially good ones. The message was clear: good means American. The authors of How to Behave in Britain hinted that sharing them is not only good but also beneficial. Moreover, you can share them not only with new friends in the bar but also with simple employees on whom your comfort depends, such as train controllers or the receptionists. All this, of course, is on the verge of a bribe, but let’s not twist it, okay?
What can not be done in an English pub?
So Virgil did a great job of showing how to behave properly. But in order to point out errors, a new character appears in the film: a boorish and noisy dude, which embodies everything that the British do not like so much in Americans. Using his example, we understand how not to act in a pub.
Make fun of Scots
A terrible, fatal mistake! According to the creators of the film, mockery of the Scots, their strange hats, military insignia and, of course, kilts – this is something you would like to do. But you need to restrain yourself and not give in to the impulse. To make fun of the “dresses” of the Scottish military, despite the fact that the kilt was an element of a military uniform – this is like spitting in the face of all the Celts in the mile district. Another important thing: because of their monstrous accent, you almost certainly will not understand what they are talking about, and this might end up with new problems. In general, beware of guys in skirts and share cigarettes to smooth out the conflict.
Scream like crazy (even if the British themselves scream)
As soon as he entered the pub, the Bad Soldier began to yell, greet everyone as if he were shouting at the crowd on the stadium and generally drawing all his attention to himself. For simple American warriors of the 40s, this is the usual behavior. But remember the first rule: a pub is not a saloon! They don’t do it here (at least at the beginning of the evening, until everyone else gets drunk).
Spend money like water
As an inexperienced and stupid soldier does on a visit: showing money, boasting it before the “poor” locals. In general, he pretends to be a Texas millionaire. As the wise Virgil does: ahead of time he exchanges banknotes for small things and pays with coins. By the way, in some cases, the same cigarettes can fulfill the role of money. It is wartime after all.
Buy the British some expensive booze
At first glance, it is quite a strange rule. Why not buy new friends some good drinks? The problem is that etiquette obliges them to buy you a drink back. And the same, or about the same price. If they are not very rich people, embarrassment can come out: they will have to seriously spend money, and in the end, they will be completely unhappy with a gift from a puffy American. Drink cheap, drink what the locals themselves drink – Virgil advises.
In the end, the Bad Soldier who drove everyone crazy burns out in a cloud of smoke. Most likely, this is such a euphemism for beating upstarts by locals. In general, Virgil’s old advice comes down to being less American: becoming more introverted, more quiet, and more polite. A million-dollar smile and a loud voice do not cause admiration, approval, or desire to make friends here. By the way, pay attention: the name Virgil is probably a reference to Dante’s Virgil, the guide of the poet to the other world. Still, How to Behave in Britain stupid people did.