Friday, 9 April 2010

Booze Culture in the UK

This is one of those thing you have to see to believe: booze culture in the UK. There is an excellent article in today's Wall Street Journal about the UK's booze culture, it is absolutely worth the read. Until I moved here, I had no idea how truly pervasive alcohol abuse was throughout British society. No doubt none of you need me to launch into all the other problems that are linked to/caused by/a reflection of a society riddled with alcoholism.

The U.K. is struggling with a rise in alcohol consumption that many people contend is fueling public disorder and violence. Alcohol abuse and "antisocial behavior" have become an issue in the run-up to the nation's general election, to be held May 6.

Antisocial behaviour and alcohol abuse are rampant. Rampant.

Per-capita consumption of alcohol in the U.K. rose 19% between 1980 and 2007, compared with a 13% decline for all 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to the most recent data. Average consumption over that period fell by about 17% in the U.S., 24% in Canada, 30% in Germany and 33% in France, according to the OECD.

Over one-quarter of England's population is "drinking at hazardous levels," according to a recent report by the Royal College of Physicians and the National Health Service Confederation. The report said treating alcohol-related conditions cost the state-run health service about £2.7 billion (about $4 billion) in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2007, almost double the cost in 2001.

There is much speculation about how to reduce the drinking levels in the UK; suggestions vary from cutting back pub hours, to price regulations and heavier taxes. The truth is however that excessive drinking is not only completely acceptable in British society - it is expected. Until this changes there will be no reason for people to cut back their drinking. Shortly after I began my first job [at a large investment firm] in London, a colleauge of mine arrived at work completely hungover and clearly unable to work. The Director of his department approached him and asked if he was alright, suspecting he had the flu. After a brief conversation he let it slip that he was hungover (and no doubt still drunk!). The Director's response: Well good for you for coming into work. Can I get you anything? ?!?!?
At North American Christmas parties getting hammered is a big no-no. Every year magazines publish their 'Christmas Party Tips' which inevitably include some note about not getting too tipsy at the office Christmas party. This is not the case in the UK. Being drunk is du rigeur - as long as you don't molest a coworker and you can still walk you are pretty much in the clear. Some people of a certain social strata here would look down on you a little, but that is about it.

When you live in a city that sets up special Ambulance Tents in Central London during the Christmas season you realize that this country is catering to their drunks. Yes, you read that - they do actually set up special tents in London for drunk people to 'recover' or get treated as needed so that they do not clog up the ambulances. Where is the incentive to stop drinking??? How about making people PAY for their medical expenses relating to alcohol abuse?

Health experts say the availability of cheap alcohol is a major factor. U.K. supermarkets have long sold alcohol at a steep discount or even a loss to attract customers, and some market researchers say discounting appears to have intensified during the recession.

Booze is cheap here. At the grocery store the other day the big special was mix and match 3 cases of beer (45 cans/bottles) for 18GBP. Think of this as being able to get it for $18.00 in Canada or the States. It included brands like Stella Artois, Corona, Budweiser, Strongbow, Guiness, etc. One can see why people do not hesitate to buy alcohol here - but in the end it is not the prices making them drink. It is because it is an accepted social behaviour. People of a certain generation in the UK do not have friends, they have drinking buddies. This is a culture of booze.

To read the full WSJ article by Jeanne Whalen click here.