If there was only one thing I could bring back with me from England it would be a proper English pub. In fact, I'd make sure there were at least two pubs within walking distance of every person's house in the country. On top of that, all the hiking paths in the Rockies, North Cascades, and the Sierra Nevada would have a pub within a mile of a trail head, better yet, at the trailhead. That's really what it's like living here. If you don't pass a pub within ten minutes of stepping out your door, you can't possibly be in England.
In my neighborhood I count five pubs within a five minute walk of my flat and less than two minutes between each other. St. Albans was a popular resting spot if you were heading north from London in the days of horse travel, so we have an abundance of old pubs that have catered to weary travellers for hundreds of years. In fact, St. Albans has more pubs per capita than anywhere else in England. We also claim the oldest continuously running pub in the country, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which was almost renamed Ye Olde Clever Cocks, when PETA took offense to the fighting bit and wanted us to "celebrate chickens as the intelligent, sensitive animals that they are." No lie. Read about it here.
It's hard to deny the result of a pub culture is that the English drink more. A lot more than most Americans. But it's usually done slowly and in the company of friends, friendly strangers, or a resident cat lounging in front of the fire. In America, your doctor will assess you for alcoholism if you admit to having two drinks a night. In England it's just assumed you have at least two drinks a night and won't bring it up unless you're sporting a facial injury.
After a few years of feeling irritated that English beer is warm and flat, C has come to appreciate that nursing a pint for an hour means that your beer tastes exactly the same at the end of the hour as it did at the beginning. And don't complain to a Brit about warm and flat beer. They love it that way. They stand by its quality and flavor and seem to think carbonation and cold only detract from a real ale. But I still haven't acquired the taste for British beer. So in my defense I remind my friends that they are the only ones in the world who drink it this way, so who's the weirdo here?
And then there's the food. The term 'Pub Food' implies dull burgers and lukewarm fries but in the past twenty years, England's pubs have stepped up with various levels of success. Almost all pubs have a Sunday Dinner Roast which, the one time we partook, included the thigh of a bionic goose in a giant bowl of veggies and gravy. More often pub chefs are putting together things like leek and feta pies, smoked trout and inventive salads drizzled with bright yellow dressing.
And now that summer's here, people flock to the pub gardens, universally hidden from the outside but always present out the back and buzzing on a warm afternoon with locals soaking up the elusive English sunshine. It's also the place to watch the rugby game or football, aka soccer. And since we're staying in the UK for awhile longer, you just might find me in the pubs more often trying to understand this football mania. I'm worried that the distinction between Chelsea and Manchester United is the one thing that may be my downfall if I ever choose to take the citizenship test.