Passport to the Pub

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Passport to the Pub:
A guide to British pub etiquette

9 Going Native

You now know about as much about pub etiquette as any native regular. The difference is that native regulars have had years of practice, and obey the laws instinctively. It’s a bit like the difference between learning a foreign language at school and growing up speaking it as your native tongue. Now that you have read this guide, you may actually have a better grasp of the ‘grammar’ of pub etiquette than the natives, but they still ‘speak the language’ better than you.

Don’t be disheartened. All you need is practice. Everyone knows that the best way to become fluent in a foreign language is through ‘total immersion’, and, as any of our researchers will tell you, total immersion in the life and culture of the British pub is no great hardship. There is also a long tradition of tourists (and anthropologists) becoming so enchanted by an alien culture that they eventually abandon all attempts at detached observation and ‘go native’.

In the context of pubs, you can enjoy most of the experience of being a native without going to the extremes of resigning from your job, deserting your family and taking up permanent residence over here. All you have to do is to become a regular, which is surprisingly easy, and does not require a lengthy stay. Follow the instructions below, and you can soon achieve some of the basics, even if you are only here for a week!

How to become a regular

First, choose your pub carefully. If you are here in the tourist season, avoid the obviously tourist-oriented pubs and the larger, more impersonal big-chain pub-restaurants. Instead, search out a smallish, friendly local in a back-street, suburb or village. Make sure that it is a pub full of regulars (see Chapter 3 for tips on identifying regulars). Try a few pubs until you find the one with the warmest welcome and the atmosphere that suits you.

Once you have found the right friendly local, demonstrate loyalty by visiting this pub as often as possible - at least 3 times in a week, preferably including at least one weekday evening and one Sunday lunchtime. Going on weekday evenings will show that you are a serious regular pubgoer, not just a casual Saturday-night-out visitor. The pub is also likely to be less busy on weekday evenings, giving you more opportunities to get to know the publican and bar staff. In many locals, Sunday lunchtime is one of the most popular ‘sessions’ with regulars, when they are at their most genial and relaxed.

At the first opportunity, buy a drink for the publican (or the member of bar staff who serves you), using the "and one for yourself?" formula. Also try to find an early opportunity to make friendly contact with the other regulars. Get involved in the chat at the bar counter, and play your full part in the round-buying ritual. If you must order inappropriate drinks, be prepared to be teased about it, and always observe the customary rules of introduction if you wish to participate in pub-games.


The precise number of visits required to demonstrate your loyalty will vary from pub to pub. In some very friendly pubs, you may hear the charming old saying "You come here twice, you’re a regular". This is not to be taken literally - no-one expects to enjoy all the privileges of a long-standing, established regular after only two visits, but the sentiment is genuine, and admirable. The publicans who use this phrase tend to be those who pride themselves on learning each new customer’s name and preferred drink in less than two ‘sessions’. Some local pubs may be more insular and wary of strangers, and it may take you a bit longer to gain the confidence of the natives - but achieving this can be an even more rewarding experience.

The benefits of being a regular

The term ‘regular’ covers a number of different ranks and positions within the pub-tribe, from the ordinary member to the tribal elder or warrior. But even the most ordinary rank-and-file member of the tribe is a privileged being, and enjoys a sense of importance and belonging that can never be experienced by outsiders. Once you have established yourself as a friendly, loyal, regular customer, you should start to experience at least some of the joys and privileges of this status. These include:

These are just a few of the many pleasures of being a regular - those which seem to be common to all pubs. In your chosen local, regulars may enjoy all sorts of special rights and privileges that are not mentioned here.

The responsibilities of being a regular

Along with the many benefits, there are some duties and responsibilities attached to your new position as a full member of the pub-tribe - but don’t worry, there are no particularly onerous tasks involved.

In short, being a regular is a bit like being a member of a close-knit extended family, with all the advantages and disadvantages that this entails. The pub, to many natives, is a second home - and some probably spend more time in the pub than they do in their own homes. Most foreigners find it hard to understand the British love-affair with the pub. We hope that this book has explained some of the irresistible attractions of the pub, and, more important, made you want to discover them for yourself.

Final Warning: If you go around showing this book to native pubgoers and reading out the rules to them, be prepared for one of the three following reactions:

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