Drinking Differences Between the US and UK

By: Emma Buchman

Whenever college life is involved there is always one activity that you can count on everyone participating in, drinking. Whether you’re the beer pong master or the designated driver, alcohol is always an element that accompanies every college career. In the UK it is no different. In fact, there are even fewer differences in our respective drinking cultures than you may think.

I don’t officially attend a university through my program, so I can’t speak too much of how different university drinking in the UK is from the US. It seems that drinking is even more important to British campuses than it is to American ones, if that is even possible. According to an article by the Fulbright Commission, because the drinking age is lower, alcohol is served at many more official campus events and is therefore more involved in the system. I would say that that is definitely a divergence from the US, but when we sponsor non-campus events we compensate pretty well.

Moving on to a more generalized perspective, from my personal experience, alcohol in London has more similarities with alcohol in the US than differences. It is not that the US and UK have two completely different ways of drinking, but rather they each have the same method, but with a different style. One example of this could be sports bars in the US and pubs in the UK. You go to both for the same reason, but each of them has a distinctly different feeling to it based on the culture from which it comes.

Additionally, there are some aspects about drinking that are exactly the same, particularly when it comes to clubbing. As far as I have seen there is no huge difference in how people spend their Friday nights. Sometimes you just want to start off with a beer, and other times you want to just dive straight into the vodka. Sometimes you spend the entire night with those friends, and other times you end up going home with someone else. Sometimes all you want to do is stick to the bar, and other times you want to go full college student and go to a club or a party. Essentially, college kids in the US and UK have similar ideas of what going out entails and what constitutes a good time when going to a club.

While drinking culture is quite similar, there have been a couple of differences that I have noticed here and there. The first is that there are no open container laws. You can carry a pint outside or walk to your friend’s house with an open bottle of wine, and no one can judge you. The second difference is the drinking age. Like most of Europe, the drinking age in England is 18. This is great when you’re under 21 and you’re visiting, but when you actually are 21 it just makes you feel old and ordinary. I haven’t heard too much in England about the benefits of having a lowered drinking age and it is (surprisingly) not a subject that I found a lot of research on. Though it has come up on occasion, it hasn’t come up enough for me to give a fair account of British perceptions on their drinking age.

From my own experience and from the research that I have done, there really are not that many differences between us. Are there a couple of differences in the way people drink? Absolutely. The bottom line is that alcohol is can be an important factor in how you spend your free time no matter where you are. It is not, however, an obligatory one.

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