An Outside Perspective of British Drinking Culture

When I arrived in Leeds from my native Italy in September, I prepared myself for Brit drinking culture through binge-watching all of the comedy series Peepshow. Thanks to that show, I was aware that British drinking culture differs from Italy’s. Not that I came as a teetotaler. Veneto, the region I’m from, is notorious for three things: blasphemy, pretty villas, and drunkenness.

Given I have worked as a barmaid before, I’ve seen alcoholism firsthand with old men often ordering strong spirits before noon. We do love our wine too for sure, a common proverb being  “eà mejo medessina xe el siropo de cantina” or “the best medicine is the syrup from the (wine) cellar” but binge-drinking is a limited phenomenon though.

The first difference I noticed between British drinking and Italian drinking is that Brits buy alcohol before a night out and drink it at home. Where I’m from, drinks in bars are stronger and cheap. We drink Spritz, a cocktail from white wine and Campari or Aperol that will never cost more than three euros, even in the fanciest bars. Popularized in the 1700s during the Austrian dominion of Veneto, it’s a source of pride for us. The second difference is that women drink as copiously as men here, often to the point of being sick. In my town, a girl getting inebriated to the point of puking will become the town’s latest gossip coupled with stern judgment. Sadly an unhappy factor in why Italian women drink less is because a drunk Italian girl would be in more danger from men than her British counterparts.

“We do love our wine too for sure… but binge-drinking is a limited phenomenon”

Drinking in Veneto is perhaps as common as in Britain but it is more civilized. Here, social guidelines for drinking are summed up as “don’t mix the grape and the grain”. In Italy there are so many rules: don’t order a Spritz before 4 pm, don’t have more than one Spritz before dinner as there will be wine then too, you can have a largish digestivo, a bitter herb liquor, after dinner but no more, and right before bed, a neat shot of grappa is permitted.

Since I’ve only been here three weeks, I can’t say I’ve had the full experience of drinking culture but as a recent stroll down Headingley lane at 11 pm Saturday showed, you don’t have to walk far to witness some excessive British drinking at its finest. A new friend called Jack happily explained to me that “British drinking culture is you get really, really, really, really drunk (emphasis on really) and don’t care about the consequences”. You’ve had a hard week so you decide you’re gonna get wellied at the weekend.

Even so, the Office for National Statistics reports that in 2015 there were 8,758 alcohol-related deaths in the UK including underlying causes of death regarded as those being most directly linked to alcohol consumption. Furthermore, 464,000 incidents of violent crime were recorded in England and Wales where the offender was believed to be under the influence of alcohol. Between the years of 2017 and 2022, research conducted the Alcohol Research Group from Sheffield University also predicted that alcohol-related causes will kill nearly 63,000 people. This is the equivalent 35 a day.

Not that all Brits indulge in such overconsumption. Statistically, it is on the decline. The Annual Health Survey for England reports that the proportion for 16 to 24-year-olds who do not drink alcohol has increased from 18 percent to 29 percent in 2015. On the whole, healthy initiatives seem to have made excessive drinking more uncommon compared to ten years ago but for someone new to the scene, the British certainly drink way too much.

Alice Forney