There are a number of stereotypical things that pop into one’s head when we hear the words “United Kingdom”: red phone boxes, the royal family, beefeaters, and pubs. It is almost like an unspoken tradition for tourists visiting this amazing collection of countries to seek out each of those stereotypes. One in particular is the easiest to find, as it seems there is one on every street corner: pubs.
A pub is not a phenomenon that exists to the same degree in Canada as it does in the UK. The word “pub” in Canada is used by restaurants to set them apart from the competition; pub denotes a quaint, old-fashioned establishment with aged photos hanging on the wall and cozy booths perfect for friendly conversations. In reality, “pubs” in Canada are restaurants with an identity crisis. The waitress shows you to a table, takes your order, compliments your drink choice, and makes sure to pop by your table every 15 minutes to “see if you need anything else.” Then once the bill is presented, a nice fat tip is expected to be given. To use the word “pub” to describe this type of location is an insult to anyone hailing from the UK. I can say that with confidence, because after taking a good British friend of mine to a Canadian “pub”, she was flat out offended that we used that word to describe an overpriced restaurant.
There is so much more to a pub than just the principle behind them. While in the UK, I learned that pubs were a crucial aspect of the British social culture. Everyone has their “local”, a word to describe the pub they frequent or like the most. My local was a pub called Ship & Castle located in Aberystwyth (Aber-ist-with) on the coast of Wales. It was perfect: small and cozy, a massive wooden bar, friendly staff, and local specialties. People of all ages went to Ship & Castle. Students could be seen sitting at a table and chatting, while two retired men were playing pool, and a bunch of middle-aged ladies laughed while relaxing after a long day at work. And usually, the small TVs in the upper corners were playing a football or rugby match. There was no one waiting at the door to greet you, no one checking up on you, no bill, no tip. You just went to the bar, asked for your drink, paid, and sat.
I was always amazed at how it felt to be in a pub. The atmosphere didn’t feel forced. The décor was authentic and naturally aged, because it had been hanging in the same spot for 20 years. As a customer, I didn’t feel out of place at all, which is a rarity in certain establishments in Canada. Pubs offer adults of all ages a place to meet and exchange stories. It’s not about the drinks or the music or the pub quiz games, it’s about the entire experience of going there.
Pubs are a special aspect of the United Kingdom. I haven’t travelled enough to know if other countries mimic the pub experience better than Canada does, but I do know that pubs have successfully met the need for a social experience in the UK for many decades.
So the next time you are in the UK, seek out a pub. Immerse yourself in the authentic feeling of being welcomed by people who don’t know you. Start a conversation with someone. Enjoy the experience. And save a coaster as a token of the memories you made while there.
Written by: Shannon Rex – Study Abroad Ambassador 2013-2014 and a Business student at Thompson Rivers University. Shannon’s father is a successful entrepreneur who owns a brewery and a retail store in Kamloops, BC (Canada). After working for him, learning about his business, and studying abroad (University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Wales, United Kingdom) and experiencing the culture surrounding pubs in the UK, Shannon was inspired to create a life for herself by opening or taking over a small venture. Upon her return to Thompson Rivers University, she changed her major to “New Venture Creation” and ideally she would like to be a small business consultant and open her own pub inspired by the communal culture that surrounds them. She values small/micro businesses exponentially as she states “Small/micro businesses are so important for every aspect of the economy, be it employment or general economic growth.”