International students in the UK vs British drinking culture
When Hedi Mehrez, a French student at Cardiff University who is completing an MA in International Journalism, interviewed us for his dissertation on teetotalism, it inspired him to write about the experiences of International students who are studying in the UK – and are surrounded by completely alien drinking behaviours. Is it possible to remain moderate in your consumption of alcohol as a young person in new surroundings, when everyone around you is doing the opposite? Hedi did some investigating and wrote the following article for us:
Challenges for students
Stelios Marathovouniotis, a Greek-Cypriot graduate from Glasgow University, was on his way back from the hotel his parents were staying in when he first noticed the dark side of the UK. The streets of the “Dear Green place” were full of drunk people, vomiting and passing out.
“I haven’t seen something like that before I came to the UK,” says the Cypriot. “I had in mind that it was a very civil, organized society and I often compared it to the more “anarchic” Cypriot society. But I had no contact with British culture at all before I came to the UK.”
Over 440 000 non-UK students are studying in the UK according to recent figures. The UK is the second top country to welcome International students in Higher Education. Living abroad is perceived as a personal challenge for most students, they’re facing various difficulties which differ considerably among students. The Briton’s drinking culture is one of them. The latter is anchored in most people’s mind, creating various assumptions about British habits.
Constance Bobotsi, 20, a Greek student in Politics and International relations at Warwick University said: “Every summer there’s news stories of Brits getting incredibly drunk and getting into fights, ending up in the hospital, while on their vacation in Greece.
“Apart from that, the general Greek narrative is that Brits have very sad lives (because of a mixture of the weather and work hours) and hence feel the urge to get drunk every weekend in order to relax and have fun.”
Traditions and rituals
This may have had the effect of dissuading some students from studying abroad. The whole idea of the drinking culture is built upon traditions and rituals including pre-drinks.
“I was really shocked to find out the ritual starts at 7 PM for Brits and that a night out without predrinks is doomed to fail,” says Constance. “I was also shocked by the notion of chugging, I’d never seen people not enjoy their drinks before or drink so many pints within an hour just to ensure they’d be drunk by the time we made it to the club.”
There are several other factors that need to be taken into account. Fangyu Xing, a Chinese PG student at Cardiff University was shocked by the overall availability of alcohol. She noticed that in most restaurants you can buy alcohol which differs from China. She admits having been seduced by the diversity of cocktails and other alcoholic drinks. “The drinks here are very tasty and sweet. They mix various elements together and I quite like this,” says Fangyu.
Resisting bad habits
The toughest thing was to not fall into these bad habits. But how can one resist when surrounded by alcohol consumers?
According to Stelios, following his own habits helped him to not be affected.
“I followed my own habits, drinking as much (or as little) as I wanted, and got used to seeing drunk people in the streets. I rationalized it by saying that the UK has a drinking problem, so I accepted it,” says Stelios.
For Constance, it did take some time before realising that her attitudes toward alcohol had to change. “I did find myself drinking more than I wanted me to because of the surrounding environment that supported such a behaviour. This year I have made a conscious effort and I have reversed the trend.”
What Stelios recommends is to try and convince friends to do other activities such as going to the theatre.
For the latter, alcohol is not the only way to socialise and may be dispensed. “A thing that didn’t exactly shock me but bothered me was that drinking is the only way for many people in the UK to have fun,” says Stelios. “You always go out to drink, there are a few alternatives (depending on the place) and I think this gets in the way of knowing other people better. If you are always drunk when you’re together you won’t get to know each other’s true selves.”
Tips from Club Soda
Here at Club Soda, we’re already aware that many people align having a good time with drinking alcohol – if you want to drink, it should be because you’re having a good time, not because you want to have a good time and aren’t. Drinking moderately can be difficult to achieve for those who are used to binge drinking – lack of confidence often comes into play initially, then once a few drinks have been had, our general thought pattern and logical behaviours are harder to access.
If you’re not looking to stop drinking completely, but would still like to socialise without getting hammered, try our top tips below:
- Avoid “pre-drinks” – if there is a get together at someone’s house beforehand then either avoid it or take some tasty non-alcoholic drinks.
- Eat first! This is so important – not only will it help to absorb the alcohol that you do drink, but it’ll also delay the start of boozing, as we often drink when we’re actually hungry.
- Drink water. Before, during and after – it’ll keep you hydrated, encourage your body to process the alcohol and it’ll slow down how quickly you drink your alcoholic drinks, as it’ll keep thirst at bay.
- Start with non-alcoholic drinks before moving onto alcoholic drinks, it’s much harder to successfully switch the other way around, as once you’ve started, it’s harder to take the sensible route.
- Find good venues with interesting non-alcoholic or lower-ABV options. If you’ve only got coke or water on offer, you’re more likely to switch to booze more quickly.
- Watch the alcohol content of your drinks. If you’re sticking to lower ABV, longer drinks, then you’re much more likely to last the night and remember it the next day.
- Not sure what’s low alcohol, or what’s no alcohol? Check the labels, or ask the bar person – and if in doubt, add sparkling water or lemonade to make a shandy/spritzer/longer drink.
- Ignore any non-understanding comments from those around you. If people are trying to bend your arm into drinking more than you’d like to, ignore it and do what you feel comfortable with. This reaction is usually a reflective behaviour, because your choices are holding a mirror up to someone else’s habits.