My journey to understanding the importance of booze in Britain

When I first came to the UK, I found it really strange how big a role alcohol seemed to play in everybody’s lives. I was shocked when I realised that people seemed to only go out partying to  get as drunk as possible.


square portrait

By Winnie Agbonlahor

It’s not that I never went out or never had a drink back home in Germany. But my friends and I would go out to dance. We’d only go to nights where we knew we’d like the music. And, sure, I would have a few drinks, but getting drunk was not generally the whole point of the evening.


Often I even stayed completely sober because the only way to get to my favourite nightclub was by car (I lived in the countryside). So my friend (who shared my taste in music) and I would take it in turns to drive, and mostly the person not driving would just stay sober too, because what’s the point? I remember having awesome nights dancing until my feet hurt while sipping on water, or diet coke.

Then I came to Britain and people would say things like: “I only dance when I’m drunk”, or: “I don’t really like this music, but if I’m drunk I’ll dance to it.” I was so baffled, because I couldn’t imagine dancing to music I didn’t absolutely LOVE.

I was equally startled when I met someone who was ‘doing dry January’, i.e. he was not drinking any alcohol for the entire month of January. I didn’t see what the big achievement of it was. In fact, I found it worrying that his reason for doing it was to reassure himself he would survive four weeks without a drink, or, as I heard it, that he wasn’t an alcoholic. “Jesus Christ!,” I thought.


One day I went to see a doctor to get a repeat pill prescription and she asked me about my weekly intake of alcohol units. I had no idea. I hadn’t even heard of units until then. Then, she asked if I ever experienced blackouts – periods of complete memory loss after drinking. “God no!,” I said. “Do you ever find it difficult to stop once you’ve started drinking alcohol?” Now, I was just laughing. “No, of course not,” I exclaimed. What on earth were these questions?!  Apparently, they were standard. I found it hilarious.

As the years went by, I started to notice that Brits who got outrageously drunk at festivals, weddings, birthdays, or just dinner parties never seemed to be embarrassed about it. Back home in Germany where I’m from, if your night ends with you vomiting, losing your valuables or taking the wrong train to a place far away from your home, it’s a reason to make fun of you for weeks. Here, it seemed to be just another funny story.

I would overhear people saying things like “My memories of last night are really hazy” or “I’m not really sure what happened” or “All I remember is waking up in hospital” and the response being: “That’s a sign of a good night!”

passing out

But the penny really dropped when I went to a wedding where I saw some old friends of mine who I hadn’t seen in years. I had driven there and had planned on getting a taxi to the B&B and collecting the car in the morning. But when I realised just how expensive that was going to be, I decided to stop after one glass of wine so I could just drive back. When the person I hadn’t seen the longest heard about my plan, he said: “Come on! You’ve got to have a drink! I haven’t seen you in ages!”

I thought: “So what? I can still talk to you and have fun when I’m sober.”

That’s why when you tell people you’re not drinking, they (more guys than girls in my experience) react angrily, almost as if you have personally offended them, unless you have a good reason.

It’s why when my friend came to visit me from abroad for the first time in a year, she apologised profusely about the fact she wasn’t drinking just because she wanted to be healthy. I didn’t mind, of course. But at least now, I get it.

  • Winnie is originally from Germany and has lived in Britain since 2006.

Improving your English? Here’s some notable vocab we picked out for you

    • booze (informal, noun): alcoholic drink.
    • to booze (informal, verb): to drink alcohol, especially in large quantities. Synonyms: to drink, to have a drink, to imbibe
    • to overhear (something/someone) (verb): to hear (someone/something) without meaning to or without the knowledge of the speaker
    •  hazy (adjective): 1. covered by a haze (“It was a beautiful day but quite hazy”), synonyms: misty, foggy, cloudy, overcast; 2. vague or ill-defined (“hazy memories”); 3. confused; uncertain (“school-leavers were often hazy about employment”)
    •  The penny dropped (informal): explanation of something was finally realised (“It was only when I saw Ron’s car outside Lisa’s house that the penny finally dropped and I realised they were having an affair”)

Stay up to date!
Follow us on Twitter or sign up to our Newsletter

One Comment

  1. Zoe

    SO true! I say this as a British person. Who knows why we do it but glad to hear that you stuck to your guns and had a good time without drinking :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *