Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Women and pubs -- then vs. now, England & Wales vs. Ireland

Women and pubs -- then vs. now, England & Wales vs. Ireland

Jun 20th, 2009, 08:10 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 416
Women and pubs -- then vs. now, England & Wales vs. Ireland

I'm curious about Fodorites' perceptions of differences, and changes, in one aspect of pub culture.

When I lived in England in the early/mid-80s, women didn't go to pubs by themselves.

Oh, there were exceptions -- country pubs at midday, for example, the kind that tended to double as the main local lunch spot. And going into my "local," where I was likely to meet up with people I knew, was different. And I'm sure that some on this board will have had different experiences.

But in general, in your ordinary town pub, even in the kind of ordinary town pub that was not automatically hostile to all strangers (and there certainly was one of those on my street!), I'd say it would've been very unusual circa 1984 for a woman who was a stranger to the place to come in by herself because she fancied a pint (or a purportedly ladylike half-pint). I remember a chill wet December evening in Norwich, too late for afternoon tea, too early for dinner, shops all closing, when if I'd been a guy I'd likely have gone to a pub; as it was, I spent a memorable hour or so sitting in the beautiful St. Peter Mancroft church.

In Ireland in 2000, I felt fine going into pubs by myself. That included pubs in non-touristy towns, and pubs without music or food. Sometimes I'd talk to people. Sometimes not. All was fine. Part of the difference, of course, is the confidence of age and travel experience, and the decay of age: a middle-aged woman generally attracts less attention than a twentysomething. But there was also, plainly, a different pub culture than in 80's England. (I'll omit Scotland, since I've never been there alone.)

In September 2008, I was in England for the first time since the late 80s. Because I was with friends and only in London and the Cotswolds, I didn't get to road-test random pub culture by myself. My sense, though, from what I did see and from what I've read is that it's changed substantially.

I'm thinking of wandering around southern Wales. My perception is that nobody's going to bat an eyelid if I go spend an evening in a Swansea pub over a pint or two of Brain's. My guess is that I & my American accent are less likely to wind up chatting to strangers than in Ireland, but maybe more likely than in England. (As my surname is very Welsh, there's a natural hook for any "why are you here?" overture.) Comments?
tahl is offline  
Jun 20th, 2009, 08:50 AM
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 17,136
I'd say you're confusing two different things. Possibly three. And this'll probably piss a few people off

First, there are certainly parts of Britain where a strange woman by herself in a pub is still an odd thing to see. That MIGHT include parts of South Wales - though obviously not central Cardiff winebars - though I can't claim expertise there.

Second, a combination of British politeness and changing mores means a strange woman in most pubs (wouldn't guarantee every single hard bore boozer in the land) will be treated politely and be unmolested.

Third is where different mores intersect. You aren't particularly interested in going into a pub for a quiet pie and pint: you sound like you want to start chatting. Now in my Cotswold village, it's not unusual to find anglophone foreign tourists in our pubs - and women get drawn into conversation as much or as little as blokes do. It just isn't like that in the Liverpool inner city pubs where bits of the flannerclan get together from time to time. I'd say how a single, unknown woman fares is unpredictable in many of them: she might be left alone (which is, after all, the default option in Britain for strangers: we don't often go out to meet new people), or she might attract unwelcome attention, or she might just merge into the banter.

It's to do with the precise pubs (those in what we call studenty areas, or the bigger cities' gentrified belts are probably more unintimdatingly friendly to casual strangers than suburbia or working class housing estates), the part of the country and the social skills of the woman concerned in the peculiar etiquette of English pubs (something that's a LOT more variable from place to place than the standard websites and Brit-watching books imply)

It really is a great deal easier in most of Ireland.
flanneruk is offline  
Jun 20th, 2009, 10:35 AM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 12,582
It's actually pretty rare to see a lone bint in a rub a dub.

A group is very common, but a stray bird is rare.

This partially explains the sucess of Starbucks in the UK - a place where manto can go and have a sit down and relax without looking over their shoulders. Prior to Starbucks there really wasn't anywhere they could go for a sit down.

Many pub chains have gone out of their way to be doris friendly - perhaps the ultimate example is All Bar One. They have clear windows - so you can see in before you go in. They sell poncy food and stress wine and other boiler friendly potions, and often have bouncers to keep the yobboes away.

but they still don't get solo flange in them.

In fact, no chick needs to worry about going into any kind of pub that she would be happy to sit down in (ie - not a dive) they will be left alone. Pubs are sort of self-policing and the other customers will look after her if she's getting pestered. (It's an excuse for a fight and we like those).
Cholmondley_Warner is offline  
Jun 20th, 2009, 11:12 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 416
CW: Your post cracked me up. Thanks for the color. BTW, I'd never have described an All Bar One as a pub; do people really think of it that way? They just seem to me like, I dunno, Pret a Manger with a liquor license. I see from Wikipedia that they were indeed explicitly designed as you said to be, er, doris friendly pubs:

Flanneruk: >>You aren't particularly interested in going into a pub for a quiet pie and pint: you sound like you want to start chatting.<<
I'd say more that I'm *open* to chatting. That's part of the fun of solo travel, being open to what happens next. Like I said, sometimes in Ireland I wound up talking to somebody, sometimes not. Sometimes people opened a conversation when they heard me order (my accent is hard to place, and more than once people started trying to figure it out).

Like many women, if I'm eating alone in a fancy restaurant at night, I'll usually ask if they serve patrons seated at the bar. It's less awkward, in part because you don't have to figure out what to look at; you can look at what's behind the bar, eavesdrop on people ordering, etc. Similarly, in Ireland, in pubs at night -- so, when I was explicitly not looking for a meal -- I'd take a seat at the bar whenever possible. Less awkward and less isolating.

It makes sense to me that any British pub that wouldn't set off my "do not come in here" radar would likely be at least safe. Also interesting to confirm that Irish & British pub cultures are still quite different.
tahl is offline  
Jun 20th, 2009, 04:44 PM
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 2,784
Can't comment on women in pubs, but we just got back from Scotland. Some night we walked for a block looking for some place to eat. The most popular eating establishments had public lieenses and my 10 year old son couldn't join us.

The funny thing is my husband walked up to one watering hole and asked "Are children accepted." The host answered, "Not for payment."
palmettoprincess is offline  
Jun 20th, 2009, 05:51 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,814
If you have not seen this, I suggest you read at least a portion of this link to Pub Etiquette. Much of it is based on actual research data by the Social Issues Research Center (SIRC). I lived in England for awhile, and frequented my share of pubs, but even I found it an eye opener.


nukesafe is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 02:46 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,664
Nukesafe, we've seen this supposedly authoritative SIRC "report" before on this forum - but it's way out of date (eg licensing hours!) and hilariously off the mark in a number of areas. It's hard to believe this stuff was written by a Brit: it comes across as the same sort of half-baked nonsense peddled by that Rick Steves person we keep hearing about.

To answer the OP's question, there have been many changes in UK drinking habits since the early 80's. The most obvious and controversial difference is the huge increase in binge drinking (especially among groups of young women), but it's still very rare for a single woman to go into a pub unless she was a regular waiting for her mates to arrive. Unlikely that anything really unpleasant would happen but there will be some funny looks and possible unwelcome attention. Sorry that's just the way it is.
Gordon_R is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 03:08 AM
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 12,582
What Gordon said.
Cholmondley_Warner is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 07:46 AM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,814
I stand corrected. I didn't realize how dated the material was --- possibly because I am even more dated. My days of doing the pubs are from the distant past when my Practice Wife, her Dad and her Brother (all Brits) got me sloshed in what seemed like every watering hole in Herts and Surrey. We actually played Shove Ha'penny, which shows how far in the past it was.

nukesafe is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 12:04 PM
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 17,136
The SRC report isn't just dated.

The author - Kate Fox - is a charlatan: largely American, she purports to have an insight into Britain based on wild, generally inaccurate, observations of life in Oxford and at media parties - and remarkably little knowledge of anything else about this country, in which she's lived far less than she implies.

The analogy with Rick Steeves is spot on. She's extremely skilled at spinning limited knowledge, and crass insensitivity about what's going on around her, into trite and grossly oversimplified works of fiction that tell Americans what she thinks they want to hear.

It's no accident that on her website she uses the US title of her books in preference to the British one.
flanneruk is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 12:23 PM
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 6,990
With all these experts I wouldn't dare comment on the woman alone theme, but as for choice of ales, when in Southern Wales try the Reverend James.
Fra_Diavolo is offline  
Jun 21st, 2009, 12:25 PM
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 5,114
>>default option in Britain for strangers: we don't often go out to meet new people<<

I don't either, home or away, but I wonder how a female moving into town might ever find a social life? Besides the kind she might be offered hanging around a pub, that is. Especially if the churches don't go in for community socializings?
stokebailey is offline  
Apr 10th, 2013, 03:11 PM
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 1
I was in England back in 1992, and when I was there, I found people to be fairly friendly. I didn't go to pubs by myself, but I did wander into coffee shops and restaurants on my own, and people did come up and talk to me. One time, in a cafe, I was looking at a London A-Z guide, obviously a tourist, and a very nice Irish gentleman came over and spent a few minutes helping me figure out an itinerary. At one restaurant, when they saw I was eating by myself, the waiter would stop and chat with me for a few minutes every time he passed my table. Another time a cab driver offered to take me out to the pubs after dropping me off at my hotel. So my general impression was that people are quite nice.

However, some of THE friendliest people I've ever met were probably in Ireland. I was traveling with my husband at the time, in 2003, and I was impressed how open and friendly people were there. They also had a quick sense of humor and if you showed yourself willing to laugh at yourself, they seemed to warm up even more.
shefali_ohara is offline  
Apr 10th, 2013, 03:17 PM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,325
how did I miss this one first time round?

I'm not sure how it got to be resurrected, but I'm glad it did.
annhig is offline  
Apr 10th, 2013, 04:23 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,814
I'm glad someone unearthed this one, since I got to re-read one of CW's posts.

Really miss that guy!
nukesafe is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:40 AM.