It's beer o' clock...or is it?

Have you ever seen a person in a pub drinking tea or coffee and thought it was odd? Did this person give you a slightly judgemental look when you ordered your pint? Well, you probably met a foreigner, or more precisely a German.

When Tom and I first started hanging out with each other, I often asked him to meet me for a coffee in the afternoon. Although he never declined, I could sense some bewilderment but was unable to understand where exactly it came from. I knew he liked coffee, and after all, he always turned up, yet there was something that did not seem right.
On the other hand, his idea of catching up confused me just as much. Once, after a quick shopping trip in town, he took me to a pub, we had lunch and a pint of beer/cider. Drinking in the middle of the day!? Whereas I felt the urge to go for a nice cup of coffee or tea afterwards, Tom got us some more pints of alcoholic beverages. Since everybody around us was drinking alcohol as well, it did not seem to be weird – yet, I felt strange and slightly uneasy about it.

But why?

In England, it is absolutely normal to go to a pub and have a pint or two in the middle of the day. As Tom likes to say “It’s always beer o’ clock!”. Germans, however, have the saying: “Kein Bier vor vier!” (No beer before four), which is especially true throughout the week. No doubt, people drink beer before 4pm at the weekend – who would want to miss out on a cold beer for lunch, particularly in summer. Yet during the week, I feel like it is less accepted to have an alcoholic drink; instead, one would rather set a coffee date.

Having lived in the UK for a while, I got used to seeing people drink at midday, and it feels more natural to me to go along with it and have (half a) pint myself. This tiny little cultural difference also manifests itself nearly every time I arrange dates with friends in Liverpool. If I meet a German or Austrian friend, it is a coffee date. If I text one of my English friends, we usually end up meeting in a pub, which sometimes means that I have a ‘Bier vor vier!’ and feel like a rebel.

Maybe you start wondering now, whether I am just a really prudish person, who judges people for their drinking behaviour. Honestly – I asked myself the same question before.

But luckily, I do not seem to be the only German person who experiences bewilderment about this cultural phenomenon! Some weeks ago, a German friend visited me and we spent some nice days in Liverpool. Her train for Edinburgh left on a Wednesday at 12:33, and of course, we were at the station way too early. Since coffee is cheaper in Wetherspoon’s than in Costa, I took her there, got us two cups and noticed her confusion when she looked around to see what other people were having.
Here we were – two Germans having a cup of coffee because it wasn’t even 12 o’ clock yet, while the majority of the Brits around us treated themselves to beer, cider or a glass of wine. I was utterly relieved about her reaction, because it proved that it’s not me but Germans in general that seem to be prudish about drinking that early in the day. Hence, our uneasiness is more likely to be evoked by our German heritage rather than our personalities.

To cut a long story short: I do not judge the English for having a midday pint during a normal weekday; it is just different from what I know from Germany which is why it felt strange at the beginning. Once I realised that it is a cultural difference, it was much easier for me to accept the idea of a midday pint – after all there is really not much to it!

If you are a foreigner in Germany: Beware of the ‘Kein Bier vor vier’ rule. It might be the reason you earn funny looks from the Germans around you, who happily munch their piece of cake and drink their coffee.

If you are a foreigner in the UK: Shake off your uneasiness and buy yourself a pint! Nobody will judge you! Embrace this cultural opportunity and feel like a rebel :-)



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