When is socially acceptable to talk to a stranger?
In all societies, places where people can meet to talk
or have a drink together are part of social life. However, the English pub is
more than that. It is a place with an important social function and is frequently
the focus of community life in villages and cities all over the nation. As a
matter of fact, the primary function of drinking places is facilitating social
bonding. As Kate Fox states in her book, Watching
the English: the hidden rules of English behaviour (2004), the pub is the only place where
English people are more likely to begin a conversation with a stranger as it is
a special environment where normal rules of privacy are suspended. To
understand what a British pub is, it is important to look at its social
One thing that often surprises tourists is
that there is no table service, and, like every other aspect of pub etiquette,
the no waiter-service system is set to encourage sociability. Indeed, having to
go to the bar for your drinks, provides plenty of opportunities for social
contact between customers. In fact, waiter service can confine people at
separate tables, which makes it more problematic to socialize with others. It
is much easier to have a casual chat while waiting at the bar, than trying to
have a conversation with people seated at another table, which is even considered
rude. Also, it is customary for one or two people, on behalf of the whole
group, to go to the bar to order drinks. Other members of the group should go
and sit down at a table. Anyway, before you can order, you must follow the
correct bar counter etiquette.
The bar counter of the pub is the only
place that seems to lack the typical British queuing, but the queue is still
there, as the bar staff are conscious of each person’s position in the
“invisible” queue. You need to attract their attention in such a way that makes
it obvious that you are waiting to be served, without making any noise or
gesticulation. Instead, simply make eye contact with the bartender.
Another important aspect is that there is no
tipping in British pubs. The usual practice is, instead, to offer the bar staff
a drink. The social structure of the pub is egalitarian: to give a tip is to
treat them as “inferiors”, whereas to offer a drink is to treat them as equals.
To understand this singular aspect of pub etiquette, you need to understand the
British attitude towards money. The British tend to be embarrassed about money
and an excessive interest in money is considered offensive.
Besides pubs, gardens play an important
role in everyday British life. Britain is, in fact, a nation of gardening and
gardens are always well maintained. According to an article written on The
Telegraph by Debora Robertson, gardening is seen as escape from everyday life.
It is a good way to make time pass faster and, in addition, gardening can also
ease stress and benefit physical and mental health. As a matter of fact, it’s
prescribed by doctors for patients with cancer, dementia and depression.
As explained by Kate Fox in her book, a
typical British house often have a small garden at the front and a larger one
at the back. While the backyard is often delimited by a high wall, in order to
prevent neighbours from looking inside and is more private and casual, the
front yard is characterized by a low wall and is generally more cared.
Nevertheless, British people prefer to spend their time in the back garden where
no one can see them. Conventionally, they consider a back garden as private to
On the contrary the front is frequently
developed as a display garden for others to admire and enjoy. It is used to
display elements such as garden gnomes. These are not yards to sit and relax,
and you would be considered odd if you stand there without looking busy. Furthermore,
a person standing in the front garden is regarded as socially “available” and,
therefore, more likely to be stopped for a chat by neighbours, who, otherwise, would
never dare knock on the door since it is regarded as intrusion.