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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 January 2008, 13:23 GMT
Getting your round in
Pint of beer

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

The British retain their status as Europe's most dedicated buyers of rounds, but what lies behind this piece of pub etiquette?

It's rather like being told donkeys still eat strawberries or that bears continue to regard the woods as a toilet, but a survey has suggested that Britons like buying drinks in rounds.

The survey of 7,500 people across 15 European countries has found that in Britain - as well as Sweden - 82% of respondents are happy to buy a round of beer.

Czechs are believed to drink more beer than Britons

It's a cornerstone of British culture, the idea that friends or colleagues sitting in the pub should not march up to the bar and buy their drinks separately. They should not even get one set of drinks and then sit down and work out who owes what.

For many people the only socially acceptable way to do things is to get a round in.

Fergus Linnane, author of Drinking for England which is published next month, says the buying of rounds plays a part in rituals of bonding and social cohesion.

No-one knows when the practice became popular, but Linnane suggests the idea of keeping up with a certain level of drinking goes back at least to the arrival of the Vikings.

"The Scandinavians brought in the idea of drinking to oblivion. The Vikings seemed to spend their lives drinking or fighting... the idea of heroic drinking."

Early concerns

And keeping up with the pace of drinking in the group, rather than the social element, has led some to frown on the round.

The Oxford English Dictionary's first reference the concept is from 1633 and offers a colourful reminder of the dangers:

    "Drink not the third glasse... It is most just to throw that on the ground, which would throw me there, if I keep the round."

The authorities cottoned onto this in World War I, says Iain Loe, information and research manager at the Campaign for Real Ale.

They made the pubs really austere and you couldn't treat people to a round
Iain Loe, Camra
There were concerns that workers in key munitions-producing areas were getting too drunk. The answer was to nationalise the pubs and breweries around Carlisle, Invergordon and Enfield.

"They made the pubs really austere and you couldn't treat people to a round," Mr Loe says.

But the concerns of the authorities have not dented a practice which makes its own little contribution to our supposed binge drinking.

Who has not had the feeling that having bought a round for a group of five, you should really drink five pints to get your money's worth?

The answer could be to return to the tokens available in pubs in the 17th and 18th Century, says Mr Loe. Then you could keep the token and use it next time.

Away from the round, beer drinking etiquette differs in other countries. In the UK, according to the survey for brewing giant SABMiller, only 28% of people think it is acceptable to have a beer in a business meeting. In laidback Sweden it's 47%. It's easy to imagine the Viking spirit lives on.


Below is a selection of your comments:

British culture is such that a person drinking in a group has no problem marching to the bar and ordering 20 of drinks. This is because there is no lower life form below that of the round shirker who is always clocked and noted. Curiously enough have you noticed that the same group of drinkers will carefully count the pennies to ensure fair play whenever someone orders an add on such as a packet of crisps. Invariably this is paid for by the individual. It's just the way it is.
Peter Glover, Stockport

One of the things not mentioned is how you pay. Most Europeans don't buy each drink over the counter, you order as you go and pay at the end. It's up to a group to decide how they split the total.
Andy, Leeds

Rounds are also a way of saying how you trust your friends, if the rounds don't add up then it is not a problem because they can just get the first round next time. Also it can be used as wealth evener between friends without seaming to be a charity, my dad will often get a round in when we go for a drink with my friends and would never expect one back because he knows we couldn't really afford it.
Daniel Philips, Brighton

This kind of "tradition" just serves to alienate the non-drinkers amongst social circles and friends.
Jeff, Manchester



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