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  • Writer's pictureAmy Fox

Episode 17 - The alcohol culture of Britain

I’m back!!! Hey everyone! God it’s been over two months! Where have I been?! Well I’ve been the queen of procrastination! I hit a writer’s block! Who of you out there knows what the word ‘procrastination’ means? And who can think of what writer’s block might be? Well I’m sure most of you can recognise the procrastinator in yourselves from time to time! And those of you who write or create will definitely have come across writer’s block at some point too! Anyway, that can be a discussion for another episode! So! Welcome back! And thank you for tuning in to episode 17 of The British English Language Podcast!

My name’s Amy and I designed this podcast to help intermediate level English language students practise their comprehension of British English with a native from England. Thank you so much for being here and, if it’s your first time listening, welcome to the community! I hope you find these episodes helpful and I hope you find the content interesting so that learning English can be an enjoyable experience.

Before beginning I’d like to remind you that the transcriptions for every episode can be found on the website - The transcriptions are free for you to access and they’re a great way to help you improve your understanding. I’d like to apologise for uploading the transcription for episode 16 so late but it is finally up there on the website! I couldn’t find a way to transcribe that episode automatically so I ended up doing it manually which was quite a laborious process. I wonder if any of you have any recommendations for good voice recognition auto-transcribe software so that I don’t have to transcribe interview episodes manually every time? Any advice would be very welcome!

One more thing to mention before starting this episode. As those of you who have listened to previous episodes know, I usually speak relatively slowly so that you can understand. For this episode however I will be speeding my speech up slightly so that you can feel challenged and so that it reflects more of a natural way of speaking. Please feel free to give me feedback about this, I’d really love to know your preferences!

OK, let’s get into it!

Episode 17 - The alcohol culture of Britain

Earlier this month the pubs reopened fully in England meaning people can meet up and drink alcohol again just like before Covid restrictions, not just outside in the beer gardens but inside too. So I thought that this would be a good time to talk to you about the alcohol culture that this country is so famous for.

First though let’s have a little history lesson and look at the role that alcohol has been playing globally for millennia -

Alcohol is a big topic. It has been playing a role in civilisations, societies and people’s lives for thousands of years. Whilst doing some research online, I read that the discovery of late Stone Age jugs suggest that alcoholic drinks existed at least as early as the Neolithic period (around 10,000 BC). According to my research, the oldest verifiable brewery (or place where beer is made) was found in a prehistoric burial site in a cave in modern-day Israel, where residue of beer dating 13,000 years ago was discovered.

Alcohol has also been found to have been part of Ancient Chinese civilisations, Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece and many other ancient cultures.

In Europe during the Middle Ages/Medieval Period (5th to the 15th century), beer (often of very low strength) was an everyday drink for all classes and ages of people.

During the early modern period (1500-1800) attitudes towards drinking were characterised by a continued recognition of the positive nature of moderate consumption and there was an increased concern (worry) over the negative effects of drunkenness (which is the state of being drunk). Drunkenness was seen as a threat to spiritual salvation and societal well-being. However, despite the ideal of moderation, consumption of alcohol was often high. During the 16th century, in Coventry (a city in England) the amount of beer and ale consumed was about 17 pints per person per week. Nationwide, consumption was about one pint per day per capita.

While drunkenness was still an accepted part of life in the 18th century, the 19th century would bring a change in attitudes as a result of increasing industrialisation and the need for reliable and punctual work force. By the way, the word ‘punctual’ means to be on time, or to arrive at your destination at the time you are supposed to. As a side note, on my travels I’ve learnt that British people are famous for being very punctual. Anyway, self-discipline was needed in place of self-expression during the industrialisation of the 19th century. And so drunkenness would come to be defined as a threat to industrial efficiency and growth.

In post-war Britain, a lot of the drinking took place in pubs. It was mainly men that drank there, generally drinking beer. Pub is a shortened word for Public House. An indoor place where the general public can gather together to socialise and drink alcohol.

Pubs in Britain still, to this day, are extremely popular places to visit. Especially on the weekends they can be very busy. It’s also a very normal part of our culture to go to the pub after work with colleagues or friends on weekdays. Of course, in the last few decades pubs became popular with women too and nowadays (these days) both men and women of all ages from 18-year-old teenagers to 80-year-old grannies, of all social classes and backgrounds can be found drinking in British pubs.

The legal age to buy alcohol in Britain is 18. I remember though that I drank my first alcoholic drink when I was about 13. I was a bit wild when I was a teenager and would go out to bars and nightclubs before I was legally allowed to. And when I was 18 I got my first job working behind the bar in a nightclub. I have a lot of personal experience of being surrounded by alcohol, unfortunately losing my mother to alcoholism and also more recently I saw it take the life of a good friend too. Because of my own difficult personal history with alcohol you might notice a negative bias when I talk about it. By the way, the word ‘bias' means a prejudice for or against someone or something.

My travels to other countries, particularly those outside of Europe have shown me just how exaggerated our drinking habits can be. Although excessive drinking and alcoholism are present in most countries and societies around the world, it is quite clear to see that Britain could win the prize for the heaviest drinkers. By the way, a ‘heavy drinker’ is someone who drinks alcohol excessively.

The alcohol culture of Britain, and in general, is very complex and I think there are many contributing factors that explain why people include so much alcohol in their lifestyles. I think there are social, psychological, physical, emotional and economic factors involved. To share some personal conclusions for example, on a physical or practical level, like I mentioned before, the British pub is the place to meet and socialise with your friends, family and work colleagues. Unlike in Brazil, for example, where I noticed that people often hang out with their friends in the streets, British people can’t usually do this because of the cold and wet climate yet they need somewhere common to catch up with friends. Britain is largely an indoor culture, and the British pub is one of the most common places for people to go when they’re not at work or at home. At the pub you sit at a table with your friends and you drink alcohol together and talk about life. The problem of course is the addictive and potentially destructive nature of alcohol. Meeting your friends at the pub can be a very nice experience until the dangers of the excessive alcohol consumption take over. Another practical reason is that pubs are everywhere in the UK, literally everywhere! They exist in every single town and even in many villages. As a British citizen it is usually quite likely that you are within a short walking distance to your nearest pub!

On a psychological level, the fast and stressful pace of life in Britain, especially in the cities, means that people need a way to relax after a tiring day at work and many people like to relax with an alcoholic drink. So alcohol is used as a stress-relief. Similarly, on an emotional level, alcohol can be an escape from feeling emotional pain. People often struggle with expressing their emotions in a healthy way so turn to alcohol to help them cope and hide. Depression, anxiety and other mental and emotional issues are very common in the UK and of course, in the longterm, alcohol only makes these situations worse.

The social factor is simply that so many people around you are drinking alcohol so it’s difficult to avoid it. Social events in Britain almost always involve drinking alcohol. At weddings, parties, dinners, and even funerals, almost everyone will be drinking alcohol. It’s just what people generally tend to do. It would be very unusual to go to a social gathering and NOT drink alcohol.

At the end of 2018 I made the decision to step away from alcohol and so it no longer plays a role in my own life. After 18 months of abstinence I now drink alcohol only on very rare occasions and this feels in alignment with my well-being.

I would like to send love to anyone listening who has also suffered due to the negative effects of alcohol, either personally or indirectly through a family member or friend.

And so what about you guys? What kind of a role does alcohol play in your lives? How do you feel about it and also how would the alcohol culture of your countries compare to that of the UK? It always makes me smile to hear from you, I love reading your emails so get in touch by sending me a message via the website -!

Thank you so much to you lovely people for listening to The British English Language Podcast! I hope you’ve found this episode interesting and I very much look forward to seeing you next time!

If you’d like to support me in making this podcast then you can do that by clicking the ‘Donate to Amy’ button on my website. Alternatively you can subscribe to become a Patreon where you’ll receive exclusive weekly episodes as well as one-on-one online English conversation classes! Thank you so so much, I’m truly grateful for your support as it allows me to continue making this podcast and doing something for others that I love!

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