British pubs still very much the public house

Public living room, office, canteen, an escape, a place to chat, laugh or socialise, a venue for parties and wakes, the pub is still the heartbeat of British life.

“For lots of us it’s kind of a second home”, said social anthropologist Kate Fox, the director of the Social Issues Research Centre, based in Oxford, southern England.

“Pubs still plays a central role in British life and culture, and that’s not a cliche,” she told Agence France Presse.

She highlighted the central role played by public houses in soap operas, the most popular programmes on British television, where much of the drama is played out.

The Queen Victoria in the BBC’s flagship programme EastEnders, Rovers Return in Britain’s most popular programme Coronation Street on ITV, or The Woolpack in Emmerdale; rare is the Briton who has never heard of the Rovers or the Vic.

First appearing in Britain after the Roman invasion, pubs have prospered ever since.

Britain counts about 60 000 public houses—the term “pub” stuck in Victorian times in the 1800s—and three-quarters of British adults pass through their doors regularly. About 55 000 are in England and Wales alone.

“One third of Britons are even regulars” and go there for a drink at least once a week, Fox said, confirming the notion that going down the boozer is Britain’s favourite pastime.

The pub plays an important role in businesses, she added.

“Quite often, lots of important decisions and discussions are held in the pub during that half an hour after work, rather that during the meeting where they were supposed to be made.

“Things can be discussed in a more relaxed manner that they would in a meeting room,” Fox said.

“It’s a place where we can shed some of our very English inhibitions.

“The English suffer from what I call the English social disease, a form of agoraphobia combined with autism,” she said, adding that pubs help to combat the disease.

“Pubs are not just about food and drink, pubs are about sociability,” she said.

“For example, the bar counter is the only site in the British Isles in which friendly conversation with strangers is considered entirely appropriate and normal behaviour,” Fox insisted.

“The British are a somewhat reserved and inhibited people, and we need all the help we can get.

“If we didn’t have pubs we would find it very difficult to talk to each other.” - AFP

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