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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Friday night fever
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Online Magazine

Come Friday night people all over the world head to bars to celebrate the end of the working week. The English are criticised for binge drinking their way through to last orders at 11pm - but is it really so different in other countries?

When it comes to sophisticated drinking Britons know they aren't world leaders.

So troublesome is their lager and alcopop-fuelled behaviour that pubs, with the exception of those in Scotland, are ordered to stop serving a full hour before midnight.

It's an unpopular and much debated law, but apparently does little to temper the problems of binge drinking, which - according to the government - costs the country 20bn a year.

UK town centres and cities are usually taken over with lairy lads and lasses after Friday closing, but what's the atmosphere in other parts of the world?

IN THE UK

Rehannah and Emma
Who? Rehannah Mian, 31, journalist, and best friend Emma Wood, 31, veterinary nurse
Where? Nottingham, UK
How much? Three 2.50 cocktails, six 2 shots and two 1.25 lagers each

What's going on? By last orders the police are already on the streets, ready for trouble. On Friday nights they are rarely disappointed.

Extortionate prices don't stop people drinking too much and we are no exception. At 11pm, after a mad rush for the bar, we are having our last drink before clubbing.

For some, last orders is the signal to "kick off". Refusing to leave their seats half an hour later, there is an exchange of insults and banter between the bar staff and some less pleasant customers.

Later, as we wait in the taxi queue, I feel embarrassed listening to the local lads chant Nottingham's eloquent anthem of "get yer tits out for the lads". I think that Nottingham's violent reputation is exaggerated. But by 2am there's a feeling of "thank god I'm home".

IN NORWAY AND MEXICO

Cato (photo by Ioannis Lelakis)
Who? Cato Andresen, 36, company director
Where? Oslo
How much? Three 6.80 vodkas, three 3.70 beers

What's going on? Drinking the pure Norwegian vodka VikingFjord in the trendy bar "Frongnerveien 6" I find myself among about 100 happy people in a nice mood.

At 11pm on a Friday night you have two kinds of people. There are those who have been out drinking with colleagues since finishing work and are still out. The others have been home had a shower, changed clothes, had a drink at home and then gone out for a good time.

In the bar there is a nice mix of women and men. There's a friendly atmosphere with people talking and chatting. And, of course, there's drinking.

Fridays and Saturdays in Norway have always been the days for heavy drinking. After closing time at 1am I take my friends and the blonde girlfriend I have just met to a music bar that closes at 3.30am.

Then we go to a private home for a last drink, what we in Norway call a "Nachspiel".

David Marks
Who? David Marks, 59, retired Army officer
Where? Mexico City
How much? Many 1 beers and tequilas

What's going on? At the Cantina Flamingo, a large, dilapidated, barn-like structure, men and women yell to be heard over a band.

Here you drink beer by the box of 24, which is the standard order per table. The beers are delivered in a bucket filled with ice and the box is for the empties.

Each bottle is rubbed in salt and limes - to enhance the taste, or perhaps for its antiseptic qualities. A little later there's tequila, which is downed in one, accompanied by the ubiquitous salt and lemon.

The throng was in fine fettle. Mostly middle aged to advanced years - all dancing, singing and in great humour.

Later, we visit a couple of bars frequented by a much younger set. Most don't get going until 11pm and play music at a volume measured on the Richter scale.

This was too much and at the ripe old hour of midnight we called it a day.

IRELAND

Who? Paul Gribben, journalist
Where? Dublin
How much? Many 2.50 pints of Guinness

What's going on? It's five to 11 on Friday night in a Dublin pub and no-one looks worried about getting another drink. No annoying ringing of bells, no hassling of staff.

Little wonder - many city centre pubs in the Irish capital stay open beyond 11 or have licence extensions until later in an attempt to compete for hard-earned euros. This arrangement seems normal to some friends visiting from Croatia.

The crowd in the lounge of Grogan's off Grafton Street is relaxed, chatty and keen to knock the dust off another day spent playing catch-up with a spiralling cost of living.

Ironically, it's the smoking ban, not late drinks, that dominates conversation.

A number of drinkers have lived in Britain at various stages and object to the way in which people are 'chucked out' at closing times.

IN CHINA AND AUSTRALIA

Jo Lusby
Who? Jo Lusby, magazine writer
Where? Beijing
How much? Three 65p beers, four 65p double vodka tonics

What's going on? It's the first balmy evening of the spring, bringing young drinkers out to the Sanlitun area.

For some Chinese even 32p a drink is too expensive, and they're loitering on the streets, nursing shop-bought beers within earshot of the bars' loud rock music.

By 11pm noise levels have risen noticeably, and the strains of live bands are mixed with the swearing of red-faced drinkers.

Petty arguments develop, but seldom seem to escalate to the point of physical violence. The role of the occasional policeman is to appease sleep-deprived neighbours.

Women who live within walking distance of the street will go home alone without particular concern.

These bars will probably be packed until around 2am and they'll only close when the last die-hards stagger home.

Ian Irwin
Who? Ian Irwin, 35, environmental scientist
Where? Sydney
How much? Eight 2 pints of beer

What's going on? Being an expat, the dreaded ring of the bell followed by the cry "last orders please" is thankfully only a memory.

Now the 11pm curfew is no more than a number reminding me how long I have been enjoying the company of my ever faithful companion - beer.

In my local on a Friday night the mood is the same as in any pub in England at nine or 10pm.

There's the guy that's already had too much and should have gone home at least half an hour ago, but is now bugging anything in a dress.

There's a couple that have just met and are sizing each other up to determine if this is going anywhere.

And there's a group of girls who are starting to look really hot with every passing drink - and there's another five hours before closing time.

IN SWAZILAND AND THE US

Hannah Routh
Who? Hannah Routh, 30, VSO worker
Where? Mbabane
How much? Five 50p beers

What's going on? The clientele at the Mediterranean Bar are professionals - the riff raff are deterred by the high beer prices.

It's a fairly mixed crowd - black and white, men and women - and the atmosphere is laid back and good natured.

I'm with a group of ex-pat friends including Finns, French, Irish and Brits. We're drinking Southern African beer - Windhoek, Hansa - the wine is best avoided.

Drunken behaviour is limited to the odd inappropriate chat-up and most people will later stagger to their car and drive home, avoiding the known police spot checks.

As 11pm approaches we order a curry - not as good as at home - and a last beer. We rarely make it to closing time, which is in the early hours.

Many normally-teetotal Swazis take advantage of the Marula festival season to brew copious amounts of local beer.

Who? Emily Pillars, 31, book editor
Where? New York
How much? Four 4.30 glasses of wine, several 5.40 cocktails

What's going on? SoHo's trendy Merc Bar is known for serving the more potent cocktails in Manhattan. Even so, at 11pm the atmosphere is very relaxed.

The bar is packed with men and women having a good time without any signs of open drunkenness, despite the pretty average drinks prices. We are all ready for a good night out, but it has only just begun as the bars are open so much later than in the UK.

We usually begin our night later than 11pm following a nice dinner, because we know we have all the time in the world to get to our favourite hang-out.

I am more likely to see a fight between two businessmen over a cab than in a bar due to drunkenness.

People drink to relax and enjoy themselves, and take their time because they can.

IN SPAIN AND BELGIUM

Ana Machado
Who? Ana Machado
Where? Madrid
How much? One 1.30 beer and a 4.30 non-alcoholic cocktail (I'm pregnant)

What's going on? At 11 pm I am still at home. I have just had a shower after a nice siesta in front of the TV. I'm still getting ready at midnight.

At El Pez Gordo, our favourite bar, there is swinging reggae. People chat in front of their beers and some share tapas to gather energy for the night ahead. The mood is relaxed and chilled.

At 1.30 am we move on to Jose Alfredo, with its simple retro design and mirrors that allow one to watch people without being noticed. It is a place of aesthetics, dim lights and cocktails.

The mood is still relaxed, there are no fights and no need to hurry for those drinking. By 4 am we're at Taboo, where the DJ lays house tunes. Bodies are moving.

There is no fixed time to go home here in Spain, it is usually seven or 8am, but it can be earlier - or later.

Who? Josephine Woolley
Where? Brussels
How much? Two Martini 'aperos' at home, three shared 10 cocktail shakers, two 2.20 beers

What's going on? I've lived in Brussels for more than three years and still don't know what time bars close. As such 11pm means nothing.

Bars shut anytime between two and 8am. At the end of the week there's no rush to get into the pubs. And no queues.

Tonight I have 'apero' at a friends before going into town around 10.30pm. Students share the bar with trendy 30-somethings.

Red and blue cocktails poured into shot glasses are the speciality, but there's also a choice of Belgian beers to opt for. The DJ plays dance tunes accompanied by a didgeridoo player. The bar is getting busier and people are dancing.

Around 2am we leave for another bar where we can get in another two hours of dancing on tables!


Is this typical of a Friday night out where you live? Add your comments, using the form below.

In Boston there is a thing called "the two o' clock show." It's the mayhem that ensues when the drunken people are forced out of bars and clubs at closing time, 2am. Pedestrians stumble around shouting, and the streets are loud with car horns.
Chloe, US

We see Canadian and US drinkers here, going until 2am when the bars close. If it were 4am or later, they would do the same. The scenes are the same - vomiting, loud drunken idiots in the cities - slightly less outside.
Fiona, Canada

If everyone in Helsinki had to spill out onto the streets after happy hour on a Friday night, I am pretty sure that riot police would have to be called in. Thankfully that's not the case. Last orders at 11pm is definitely something I don't miss about England.
Kai Hendry, Finland

We usually stay at home, or go out for a movie. Students are the poorest people - they just take a short break on Friday night, or go on studying. However, most people choose to be relaxed.
I-Chyun, Taiwan

Uganda has no licensing laws. Pubs open at about 3pm and close at dawn. Ugandans tend to go out at about 10pm, most enter night clubs as 2am. Fighting is rare, as its frowned upon especially among the majority middle class. Ugandans go out for fun and nothing else. Bouncers are not even necessary.
Albert, Uganda

In Paris, most bars close at 2am, some at 4am, which is really enough time for quite a many relaxed drinks before exhaustion, rather than a ringing bell, tells you the night is over.
Misha, France

We need to develop a more European attitude to socialising which means taking your time and drinking at a much slower pace. Its embarrassing taking foreigners out in England!
George, England

Since I've been in Japan I have only seen one physical confrontation. People here drink a massive amount, but they drink to relax and have fun. People can drink almost anywhere and at any time.
David Whiteaker, Japan

Through my job I travel to very many countries and the only ones that have a "let's get legless" Friday night drinking culture are the UK and Australia. Sure, in other countries you get some young people who may slightly over-indulge - but this is a very small minority in comparison to the UK - where it seen as the norm.
Gavin, Switzerland

I spent more than a year living and working in New Zealand. Most pubs and bars there rarely close before 5am. However, the street scenes in most towns are reminiscent of those back in Britain - fighting, pools of sick, aggressive behaviour - and are very much a no-go area for many people after dark. It isn't necessarily the opening hours, though in Britain they don't help. It is more the attitude towards drink.
Andrew Gilbert, UK

Scotland's licensing laws changed decades ago to allow pubs to stay open to anything up to 2am at weekends. This negates the need to immediately rush out after work to drink as much as you can.
Gordon, Scotland

I've been out late in most European cities as well as Sydney and I've never seen so much as a hint of trouble. It's altogether a different story in Milton Keynes, Bedford, or Luton where it seems to be part of the night out for some people to get in a fight. You can regularly see the women as well as the men staggering around so drunk they can barely stand up.
Lorraine, Bedfordshire, UK

I can categorically say that having lived in four countries my wildest nights were overseas. No early closing, cheaper alcohol and ex-pat atmospheres all contribute to a great night out!!!
Charlotte, UK

We usually go out at 10pm to have the first drinks and then move on to the next place to dance at around midnight. We stay until the place closes at 3 or 4 am - nicely sobered up after sweating on the dance floor for a couple of hours.
Maili Torma, Estonia

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