Pub Talk and Social Interaction

In the beginning of Watching the English’s chapter on “Pub Talk” Kate Fox points out the fact that the pub “is designed to promote sociability”. Which at first sounded very odd but when she broke down certain aspects of how pubs work it made a lot of things clear. After spending a week or two walking around London I began to wonder why every stranger would turn their gaze away from mine when walking on the streets and almost no one would acknowledge my customary “Hello” or “Hey”. But almost every time I would go to the counter of a pub to order a pint I almost always had a conversation with the person ordering next to me about some trivial topic, whether it was soccer, the Brexit, or the weather. But once I had grabbed my pint and walked back to my table the conversation would only ever be with people at my table, never anyone at a nearby table. Fox attributes this occurrence and the lack of social interaction on the streets to the English valuing their privacy to an almost religious level. But they created pubs, or more specifically the bar counter of a pub, as an exception where anyone could talk with anyone. Sadly, as you got farther and farther away from the pub counter the less likely you are to be able to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and the more likely you are to get a cold response similar to the one I would receive on the streets.
The beauty of the pub is how ordering works. In order to get your drinks or food at most pubs you have to order at the pub counter. By making people congregate around the counter to order it makes it so there is always a valid reason to accidentally drift your way into a conversation. Conversations at the counter never seem forced and are almost always an acknowledgment of something that happened and then a conversation is born. I’ve grown to really enjoy this hub of social interaction. I get to only be social when I truly want to be social and if the conversation meets a sudden demise, terrible topic, or I don’t like the stranger I’ve started a conversation with I can simply pick up my pint, give them a friendly “Cheers”, and walk back to the safety of my table. The pub has been, for me at least, a wonderful English design that allows social interaction in a way that negates all the negative possibilities or outcomes of a conversation with a stranger.

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