Drinking Customs of the English

Extract from Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, by Kate Fox, p. 256ff.

Choos­ing a Drink

Your choice of drink (in public at least) is de­ter­mined mainly by your sex and social class, with some age-related variations. The rules are as follows:

Round Buying Eti­quette

There is usually no excuses for failing to perform the sacred round-buying ritual, but there are a few ex­cep­tions to the round-buying rules, re­lat­ing to the size of the drink­ing group and the de­mo­graph­ics of its members.

THE NUMBERS EXCEPTION In a very large group, tra­di­tional round-buying can some­times be pro­hib­i­tively expensive. This is not, however, usually seen as a valid reason to abandon the ritual altogether. Instead, the large group divides into smaller sub-groups (nobody sug­gests or or­ga­nizes this, it just happens), each of which follows the normal round-buying procedure. …

THE COUPLE EXCEPTION In some social groups, couples are treated as one person for the pur­poses of round-buying, in that only the male half of the couple is ex­pected to “buy his round”. … In normal circumstances, you will only see this prac­tice when the males in the group are over forty. …

THE FEMALE EXCEPTION Women gen­er­ally have con­sid­er­ably less rev­er­ence fo the round-buying rules than men. In mixed-sex groups, they play along, hu­mour­ing their male com­pan­ions by fol­low­ing the pre­scribed etiquette, but in all-female gath­er­ings you see all sorts of odd vari­a­tions and even out­right flout­ing of the rules.