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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 12:58 GMT
Brits do it... in the street
Abdelkader El Mouaziz winning the 2001 London Marathon
"I knew I should have taken a lid"
Britons are increasingly eating and drinking on the move. And that's just the start of it. Is there nothing we won't do out in the open, asks BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley.

"When the clock strikes four, everything stops for tea" - or that's how 1930s crooner Jack Buchanan led the world to believe Britons behaved.

But these days foreign visitors may be surprised not to have the streets to themselves at the appointed hour for the national caffeine boost.

They are, in fact, more likely to witness cuppa-slurping Brits dash past, according to new figures from analysts Datamonitor.

PM Tony Blair enjoys a coffee
"I should have got this to go, I have a plane to catch"
Almost a quarter of the "on-the-move" tea and coffee sold in Europe is guzzled in the UK. Swedes and Spaniards each account for a mere 2% of the region's takeaway beverage market.

Last year, the British spent 41 each on hot drinks "to go" in the nation's 2,000-odd coffee bars - though the UK's fast-growing branded chains are yet to translate this thirst into frothy profits.

But if Britons are not throwing java or char down their throats as they rush for the bus, they'll be inhaling a "hand-held" snack.

The average UK resident consumes 137 worth of sandwiches, pasties, pizza slices and the like annually - twice what Germans spend.

Boldly to go

Before you rush off to order a skinny tall mocha choca latte with hazelnut syrup to go or a grab cereal bar, Datamonitor warns the "on-the-move" trend may be stymied by social conventions which still maintain that drinking and eating on the run is "unreasonable and selfish".

The firms says such stuffiness needs to be combated if busy Britons are to use their daily commute time - the longest in Europe - to refuel.

Adam Hart-Davis as a Roman
"Do those badgers' noses come with fries?"
However, the arbiter of good manners, Debrett's, says the "modern maelstrom" is no excuse for abandoning "old-fashioned niceties".

Eating and drinking - the famous guide to acting right posh clearly states - "look very unattractive on the street".

While well-to-do Romans made no bones about getting their peacock brains or flamingo tongues from a stall, 18th Century Enlightenment manners saw street food slide firmly downmarket, according to food historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto.

Lunch on the run

The recent "industrialisation" of fast food, which has seen burgers churned out like Model Ts on a production line, has done little to improve the reputation of street dining.

There also remains the fact that, nutritionally speaking, many snacks consumed in haste will be repented at leisure, says Dr Nefertiti Sourial, director of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition.

"You need to be relaxed to eat, it helps digestion. Otherwise you can easily suffer a case of indigestion," he says.

A burger
"If it doesn't fit in one hand, I don't eat it"
The increase in time-poor Britons dining on the hoof is a cause of irritation to other commuters and street users thanks to the vast amount of litter fast foods can help produce.

An "on-the-move" snacker brought a busy Tube line to a grinding halt for an hour and a half in 2000, when their sandwich wrapper blew onto the track and short-circuited the signals.

Perhaps this is part of the reason London Underground passengers say only travellers who "test out the ring-tones on their new mobile phones one after another" are more annoying than litter bugs.

'I'm on the train'

Mobile telephony is perhaps the most obvious outgrowth of our "on-the-move" lives, but the Datamonitor research suggests Britons are increasingly willing to do all sorts of other once private things in the public gaze.

While the Italians and French are said to look down those who openly groom themselves. Britons seem less reluctant to treat public space as an extension of the boudoir.

"Can't they keep this train steady?"
The journey to and from work is now the second most popular "venue" for us to preen, apply make up and even slap on deodorant.

It seems there is almost no end to bathroom activities which have gone public, with even the taboo of open air urination crumbling in cities across the UK.

While Debrett's is quite adamant that "it is bad manners to expel any liquid from any orifice in public", several urban councils have come to a grudging accommodation with "slob culture".

A wee problem

Unshielded urinals are being deployed in London, Bristol and Manchester to stem the tide of micturating (male) miscreants.

Though councils such as Westminster - where the toilets were trialled - are not keen to encourage the public passing of water, many reason it is better to collect fluids rather than allow them to be expelled more furtively.

Open air urinal in London
"Those lattes go straight through me"
Aside from the smell and health hazards caused by inappropriate bladder evacuations (often post pub closing time), such venerable public institutions as London's National Gallery were suffering more obvious damage.

It was noticed the stone walls of the city landmark were beginning to erode under the watery onslaught.

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Your comments:

In many towns and cities, provision of public toilets is variable and most of those are locked-up well before pubs and clubs close. Even the most responsible drinker is faced with the dilemma of where to relieve a full bladder under such circumstances.
Paul Burgess, Wales

I once spent two hours travelling each way to work. I saw no problem in using this time to eat a snack or breakfast. What other opportunity do you have when you spend so much time commuting? I think the idea of unsheltered urinals for men is shocking.
Wendy, UAE

I do think eating, drinking and putting on cosmetics are better done away from the outside world. Not everyone enjoys the smells and mess that accompany it. It is particulary bad with children who have no compunction about waving melting chocolate close to your summer whites.
Mary Breading, England

In the land where fast food was born, this British outrage would cause no more than a chuckle!
Byron, USA

The simple reason for 25% of "drinks-to-go" being consumed in the UK is the lack of a cafe culture in the UK.
Al, Germany

In Brussels, the male population have no hesitation in having a quick wee wherever they may be! Nowhere appears sacred, even at 5 o'clock on a busy Saturday afternoon on Rue Neuve (the high street of Brussels) men can be seen following natures calling, at least in the UK, people are a little more discreet. A lot of Brussels smells like a mens toilet, especially the Metro.
Craig Murphy, Belgium

If I'm caught short with the option of wetting myself or peeing against the wall, then the wall gets it. It's good to see the introduction of the unshielded urinals - thought the obvious female backlash of "where is ours" will rightfully follow.
Digby, France

Is there a proper time and place for eating, drinking and, er, urinating? Or should we feel less self-conscious about what we do in the street?

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26 Feb 01 | UK
Three square snacks a day
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