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Smoking and Alcohol in Britain

Don't buy cigarettes in a pub or from a machine as they are very expensive. Buy them in a shop - usually a newsagent's (where you buy a newspaper). Or even better, don't smoke, save your money and stay healthy!
You must be 16 to buy cigarettes. If there is a "no smoking" sign - don't smoke! You will notice that in Britain they nearly always obey signs and rules.

You can only buy or drink alcohol if you are over 18. If you don't look 18 you will be asked to show identification (passport or student card). You can buy alcohol in pubs and shops called off-licences, where you can usually help yourself so you won't need to ask for what you want.

There are two main types of beer in England - Lager and Bitter. Lager is the type of beer familiar all over the world but Bitter is British - there are many different types. Another popular beer is called stout. Guinness and Murphy's are two famous types of stout.


Pubs are a very important part of British culture and have a unique atmosphere that makes some of them very special. However, they are often a mystery to overseas visitors. Pub means Public House and most landlords live upstairs, which means that what happens in their pub is very important to them. In local pubs there is often a group of regular customers who sit at the bar drinking and chatting. They are the landlord's best customers.

Most pubs are open from 11-00 to 23-00 Monday to Saturday, although many close in the afternoon. On Sunday they are open from 12-00 to 22-30. Nightclubs are open until much later.

Some pubs provide a complete service which includes coffee, food and snacks, live music and, of course, alcohol. Other pubs only serve drinks. It is usually clear what a pub has to offer and you will find that a lot in the city centre serve lunch and evening meals. Remember that most pubs will stop serving food by about 21-00.

What to do in a Pub

Go to the bar first. In a pub they always order at the bar. If you go and sit down first the bar staff will not come to the table to serve you! If the pub is busy and there are people at the bar buying drinks they will be very annoyed if you sit down before them and you don't have a drink.

When you are standing at the bar it is natural for you to take time deciding what to have but don't stop another customer who has decided. A pub is one of the few places where visitors don't queue but they do know who's next - be polite! It is traditional to go in a pub and drink continuously until you leave. That means that you don't spend two hours with one drink! You don't have to get drunk but if you are in a group and you only have a few drinks in the evening the landlord won't like you very much - especially if you are taking a table that could be occupied by local people drinking beer.

Ten minutes before closing time the landlord will call "last orders at the bar". This means that you have a short time to buy more drinks. At 23-00 he will call "time at the bar". This means you cannot buy another drink. You will usually hear a bell ring. You have ten to twenty minutes to finish your drink and leave the pub.

Here are a few example orders in a pub:

  • "Two pints of bitter, a half of lager and a packet of cheese and onion crisps, please"
  • ''A coke and two orange juices, please"
  • ''A glass of red wine and a gin and tonic, please"            

Don't forget to say 'please'.


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