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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 14:06 GMT
Are we a nation of couch potatoes?
Staying in is the new going out, according to a consumer survey.
Good living is becoming increasingly important to Britons, with people saving a smaller part of their income than 10 years ago.
The report on UK lifestyles from market analysts Mintel also found people are drinking more at home because of improvements in home entertainment.
Another survey by the British Lifestyles 2002 showed people are spending a third more on food than they were ten years ago.
There was a very large increase in the consumption of convenience food, takeaways and fast food.
Have you swapped a night on the town for a cosy evening in? Have we become a nation of couch potatoes?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I don't know about couch potatoes - what we certainly are is a nation of people who spend their time telling others how to live their lives.
If people want to slob on the couch and eat takeaways that is their business.
Get a life of your own - its more interesting than poking your snout into other people's.
About three-quarters of the comments come from Londoners. Poor things! Here in Devon we have a most fabulous coastline you can walk, then you really appreciate your pint afterward. In London neither staying in nor going out sounds much fun.
London is a thoroughly enjoyable city to go out in, with endless things to do. However, it is also extremely expensive, and so, you need a modest income to enjoy it. This is one reason I don't go out much now. The second is that I now have a baby with my partner, and so time is lacking. Although we do have a TV, and are perhaps guilty of spending more time than we used to in front of it, it is used purely as a tool for relaxation, and not as an alternative to going out. We spend our evenings, and especially weekends, doing a host of alternative activities, such as excercising, learning new skills, cooking a delicious meal for friends, or just talking and spending quality time with my family. When we can go out, we like to find a good restaurant, serving good quality food at a reasonable price (they do exist in the UK!). One thing is for certain: I don't want my baby growing up to rely on the TV, as there is a world out there to be enjoyed.
Presumably spending on so called luxury goods (or just goods if you happen to believe you live in the 21st century and not the Stone Age) is to compensate for the dire housing we find ourselves inhabiting.
And the debilitating working hours that we seem to have no choice but to work if we want to live in more than a cave.
With stressful working lives, avoidance of marriage, difficulty getting anywhere because of the transport system and the bad attitude of so many bar workers, coupled with the rush to drink before the bar closes it's almost not worth going anywhere these days. I still go out a lot but I do wish that it wasn't such a chore to get anywhere or so expensive.
My idea of hell is a packed out, smoked out, deafening city centre pub on a Friday or Saturday night. I'd far rather be at home with my husband, a takeaway and a bottle of wine.
D Smith, UK
It's those network channels! They just keep putting on one quality show after another! You'd think they'd mess up just once, but no!
There is a large attraction in staying in, in my opinion. You have had a hard day, can't be bothered to cook so you order a takeaway. Convenient, quick and easy to sort out. I think the majority of people enjoy going out but less frequently than perhaps was fashionable before. Rather than the six nights a week on the town there is the easier and less expensive alternative of a night in with either loved ones or pets or quiet time on your own whatever. The real question is: What is being offered outside and are the public getting bored with the offerings?
The thing I find disturbing about most of the comments made so far is that most people seem to think that there are only two options. Going out to a pub/club or staying in. Well done to Jay Green for suggesting that a conversation can be the evening's main entertainment. Whatever happened to sport or creativity for recreation. I'm more worried at people's blinkered view of their choices, than of their tendency to be couch potatoes.
I'm not sure I agree that we're all consuming rubbish food. More and more people are staying in and taking up the art of cuisine, largely due to the positive influence of the like of Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith, et al. People are now much more interested in preparing their own high quality food, rather than pay over the top restaurant prices. Staying in yes, but not necessarily for take-away pizza, rather, good company, home cooked high quality and cheaper food and drink with friends.
Having lived in Japan now for over a year, it is with dismay (but not surprise) that I read such negative comments from your readers. The Japanese are the hardest of all the working public, and also the most outgoing and fun loving. People are out in town until midnight every night of the week. There is no mid-week quiet pub crisis. Every bar serves food as well as drinks and the public transport is safe, fast, reliable and accessible to all, even if you live 20 miles from the pub. Britain used to have some great nightlife, especially London and Birmingham, but people want a choice. Overpriced, noisy, food-lacking, early-closing TV focused pubs are not the answer.
Ollie Nelthorpe, Australia
Britain is no way a couch potato nation. You should come here to Canada. We have drive in ATM machines and dry cleaners.
I'm confused. I thought the definition of a couch potato was someone who stayed at home watching TV, eating junk food and getting more and more unfit instead of going out to exercise! Please tell me, what is the difference between this and going out to watch a movie or to sit in a pub passive smoking, eating junk food, getting drunk, except of course that the latter costs more money. Staying at home in the evening, enjoying good company, good wine and good food doesn't make you a couch potato.
When I lived in the UK I hardly ever went out. You sometimes had to queue for 40 minutes in a pub to get a drink, and your eyes were streaming because of the smoke. Now I live in Canada I go out at least twice a week. We go to a pub and sit at a table while a waitress fetches the drinks, and smokers have to go outside (I'm a smoker myself and don't find this too troublesome, you get used to it pretty quick).
The UK should try a few no-smoking, waitress served bars and see what happens.
Since moving to NYC I look back on the going out experience in London and cringe. Not from the quality of bars or clubs, the nights out were always great, but from the getting home. A rail/underground system that runs all night along with cheaper taxi fares would make a huge difference. Then again a rail/underground system that runs during the day would be a start.
Not being a couch potato does not
necessarily mean going out to a
pub or a party. What about having
dinner with friends, gardening,
walking the dog?
The US has gone the way of serious
couch potato-dom, and trust me,
you don't want to be where we are
now. I know a 6-year-old who had
a heart attack!
I think I can sum up the majority of comments here with: local pub = pint of Stella for £2.60, local off licence = 6 cans for £4. Enough said.
Come on all you coach potatoes and do something about it! It doesn't cost anything to walk or run. The rewards are many. Your mental and physical health will improve tremendously, regardless of your age. Try drinking a glass of water or some beverage other than beer and eating less at fast food restaurants. You will be amazed at all the energy you will have. This is not only a problem in UK, but has long been a problem in the states. As long as people go to fast food chains and continue to eat high fat diets, then these chains will not serve food that is healthy.
I went to London for a week and just got back. It was my third time there. I love to party and socialise so if you really were a country of couch potatoes I would have not bothered going. People are complaining about the crime and high prices but the whole time I was there I never felt unsafe or ripped off. Okay, maybe a little ripped off at Starbucks but not when going out. I found the cost of a night out to be about equal to the cost of a night out here in Boston and cheaper than one in NYC. Not to mention I had more fun in London. Friends often ask me why London? They prefer Amsterdam, Paris, or Spain, always going on about how good the nightlife is there. Well, I have been to these places and they were all lovely, but they were a lot less safe and I was always getting ripped off (maybe from my own ignorance) and the clubs just weren't as much fun. Who wants to wait till 5am to find a happening club? I actually like London because you can go to a pub till 11 and then go out afterwards.
Richard N, UK
I am glad to hear that England is becoming a country attuned to the more sensual pleasures of life: food, leisure time and family. It's great that we're finally realising life is very short and should be enjoyed and relished for what it is. Next we should spend more time thinking about how to make our society a better place through education and kindness to others. Simplistic and hippyish I know - but it's a start.
If you want to live in London (where it all happens) you have to pay high rent or mortgage rates, council tax and so on. After that there's not much left for going out. I agree a home cooked meal, wine and friends is much more appealing than overpriced pubs and a night bus home!
I'd gladly go out more if there were some pubs or clubs that had a no-smoking policy.
I agree with Terra. There should be more non-smoking places to go to. If a country like South Africa can ban smoking in public places then surely pubs and restaurants over here can provide decent no-smoking areas so that us non-smokers can enjoy a night out without killing ourselves with second hand smoke.
Couch potatoes? I don't like the sound of that at all. Let's all go to France and become chaise-longue pommes instead.
Part of the problem we face in the UK is that socialising generally means pub culture. Over here when we go out for a drink we generally mean staying in the pub all night and drinking as much as we can as fast as we can due to the licensing laws which came into effect during the war. People drink too much too quickly and then go and cause trouble. It's about time Blair made good on at least one pre-election promise and extended opening hours as he said he would before the June general election. Once that is done and people are not rushed out of bars at 11pm, we will see a slow change in culture in Britain, where people drink for pleasure and not to get drunk.
I have to say that I am truly sick of certain attitudes that we harbour in this country. It is no secret that we have a culture that considers food less important than, for example, France. We also pay more than certain places in Europe for certain services. I have been fortunate enough to visit some wonderful places on the continent such as Rome, Paris, Barcelona and Lisbon. Each have their own merits but to suggest that this country is a lawless, uncultured and dangerous place to go out and have fun is both misguiding and ridiculous. I live in York and also regularly visit Leeds. Both cities are cosmopolitan, varied and for the most part safe and fun. Not everywhere but every major city I have ever been to has degradation in certain areas. We have our own culture in Britain that is very different in some ways to the continentals but it is just as fascinating.
The pull towards couch potato-dom now begins at birth. Our eight-month-old daughter is more fascinated by the TV remote control than any other of her numerous toys.
Budbullah, England, via Morocco
It sounds to me as though people have forgotten how to live. Yes there is crime, yes prices are high but I still go out at least two or three times a week. Why? Because whatever happened to community spirit - socialising and getting to know your neighbours? The culture within England and in particular London is becoming more and more introverted. People should chill out and get to know one another. The world would be a far nicer place if we were all a little more sociable.
I used to stay in a lot when I was single, in my 20s. I'm now in my 30s, and ever since I met my partner (who's in her 40s) we go out to pubs and rock clubs as often as we can afford. Why should enjoying oneself be confined to the young? Get out there - it's nothing like as dangerous as the scaremongering press would have you believe and our modern cities are wonderful places to have fun in!
Excuse me. I'm a futon potato thank you very much!
Probably true. My parents went out to the pub every evening. And twice a day on holidays. So, we just have to go back to the days when it was OK to leave kids at home unsupervised in the evenings. Or otherwise left in a car in a pub car park for hours on end. Oh, and we will have to make drinking and driving acceptable again while we are at it.
Why the need to go out. Stay at home in front of your Home Entertainment System, Wide Screen Cinema TV, eat your delivered Gourmet Meal, put your feet up and chill out. You can then use your home gym to burn the calories off.
I have lived in London all my life, I have travelled too. Going out used to be more fun. I agree with many of the other contributors about poor service, high prices, watered down lager and bad transport. On the plus side I have never managed to find anywhere else with such a massive choice of places to go. London is great for diversity and the opportunities to try something new are endless. If you don't like somewhere don't go there, sooner or later the owners will go bust and close. In Greenwich restaurants and bars open all the time, charge stupidly high prices, provide poor service then go bust! We all just need to vote with our feet a little more in this country and complain a little more.
Steroid filled doormen, pubs with dress codes that make you feel like your living under Chairman Mao, extortionate prices for a pint, paying to get in your local, drunken groups of lads, and ladies, out for a fight, fun alcopops and Stella only bars, no public transport after 12. Is it any wonder more and more are staying in? I'd rather sit at home with a can of Guinness and something good on the telly.
I'm the reverse! Growing up I hardly ever went out. Now I'm lucky to have a job with a social scene (not just going down the pub either, a miracle for journalism) I'm out as often as I can- when going out with friends though we plan it because of the time and cost of travel, so that the night out isn't spoiled by an overlong journey home.
Oh and "staying in is the new going out"? Might be a catchy soundbite for BBC1's schedule announcements, but like most New Labour spin, it's nonsense- just a personal choice based on what you feel like that day.
In London there is definitely a culture of high prices, naff service. However I enjoy looking around and finding (often hidden away) places where the prices are either lower or the service is higher. As a non-drinker/smoker I'm more of a restaurant man, and have found loads of places (yes, even in the west end!) where you can get value for money and not get glared at by the staff. Shop around, that's what I say.
Mark Boden, UK
I get out as much as I can. Meeting new people is an important part of life and sharing experiences with them. You'll not get that at home vegged out in front of TV!
Couch potato? Absolutely! After watching all those lifestyle programmes on TV, I want to show off my £2 million flat, 56" plasma TV and all the stuff Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen says I should buy... I also want to try out Jamie Oliver's recipes... what's the point of having a house if you don't use it?
Our nearest pub to us charges £2.95 for a bottle of watery American beer, the supermarket next door charges £5 for 6 bottles ! I'm just fed up with being ripped off everytime I go out , so I stay in, easy.
The reason I'm staying in more is simply because I'm sick and tired of seeing tanked up people swaying up against bars in pubs, shouting and misbehaving. They can't throw the pints down their necks quick enough. So much alcoholism makes me sick to my stomach. I can have more fun with my DVD.
I think people's priorities change as they get older. I'm turning into my parents - something that I once vowed would never happen to me!
For the average price of a typical night out in London for myself and my partner, we can:
A million people in the UK in Britain with diabetes who don't yet know they have it. 1 person in every 4/5 people who is obese. Today's article on food labelling says "People need to be encouraged to have a positive relationship with food .." Surely the British can overcome the problems of expense, bad service and mass-produced fast food and learn to consider the enjoyment of food as a pleasant, social activity. It won't kill them.
I steer clear of London's West End now - I used to go out on Fridays and Saturdays but the clubs and pubs are overpriced, overcrowded and smoky, and transport is either the appalling rail system or rip-off taxis. Better to invite friends round to my house.
Reading most of the comments posted here so far has left me bemused.
Are there two England's, because the England I am living in is not the same
one mentioned here, I refer to gun crime, lawlessness, poor service, high prices, bad value for money etc etc.
After a long week at work the last thing I want to do is be in an overcrowded pub, waiting ages to be served and paying through the nose for a drink in a usually dirty glass. So, on the way home I visit my local supermarket buy some FRESH ingredients, invite some friends round have a nice dinner, a few drinks good conversation.
Having lived in Germany now for nearly a year it is clearly evident that the Germans know how to have fun, so do we now! Strict employment laws allow most Germans to have plenty of fun time. Here you get excellent service in Restaurants and they also produce superb quality goods. Perhaps less working hours, stress free public transport, hardly any crime and lousy television help contribute to this.
It's difficult to go out if you have kids. We regularly stop over with friends, put all the kids to bed, and have a few drinks and a takeaway.
So? What of it? Who's got the remote?
I love going out me! And London has so much to offer! I think nothing of working a 12 hour day before popping off to queue in the rain for a club that charges £8 a drink and where no one seems to have any fun. I don't mind waiting 15 minutes to get served in the pub, after all you spend most the night standing anyway. And the fact that I have to bellow to be heard over the TVs playing football doesn't bother me either. Nor does the fact that a taxi home is so expensive that I have to take the night bus. And if I don't fancy that, I can grab a tiny bowl of pasta, served al soggo, for a mere £8, or go to the cinema - a snip at £10 for one seat. The fact that public transport puts two hours travelling time on my evening - and that it is, of course, raining - just adds to my undiluted joy.
British people spend more money on food than ten years ago, but it is not on fresh food, meat etc. It is on convenience prefabricated food (in most cases) - rubbish in other words. But that comes more from our culture. Eating in Britain just is not as important as it is over here, where nearly all meals are prepared from the base ingredients. Meals last for hours, and are hardly ever in front of the TV, head downwards, shovelling as much down at a time. I miss home a lot, but can't we learn a bit of finesse in the cuisine?
In a society where gun crime is rising, where it is now dangerous to use a mobile phones in public, where muggings and those involved get light sentences and where poor and expensive transport is the norm, it really is not surprising that more people are staying in.
People have finally become tired of paying high prices for second-rate service when they go out. The change in trend coincides with the fact that more Brits have visited places like the USA and Australia where value for money and customer service are far more in evidence than the usual surly apathy one normally encounters in this country.
I generally stay in because of my wife and children. I also resent paying £2.50 for a pint of beer or receiving poor service. But the biggest reason for not going out is that I've done it - been there and got the T-shirt. If you get your fill of partying during your 20's then you will never worry about socialising and partying again. Get it out your system while you're young and avoid the mid-life crises of those who regret not doing more in their 20's and therefore desperately clinging on their waning youth.
With it costing around £20 to take a family to the cinema these days, I can rent a film from the video shop for a lot less and watch it in comparable quality on my home cinema system!
With extortionate prices for drinks in pubs, lawlessness, public drunkenness and the ever-present threat of violence in our streets, is there any wonder we entertain ourselves at home?
We go out for meals maybe twice a month, but try to spend most weekend evenings at home for all of the above reasons.
23 Jan 02 | UK
Britons splash out on good living
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