Join 3,552 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Your Culture Is Stupid And I Hate It
March 15, 2014 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Transcontinental Yelling With Jo (An Englishwoman) and Mallory (An American)
posted by Joe in Australia (89 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm English: rounds are for idiots, as I have no interest in drinking as quick or as slow as you nor risking the chance that I'll end up buying more for you than you have done for me.
posted by Thing at 7:39 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Any sort of group weekend trip with my American/semi-Canadian friends anymore it's like rounds for fine dining. So, eat for free for several meals, then depending on when it's decided your turn has come up here's your $200-$600 tab.

I one upped by starting a business so we can talk business and have business meals - they'll pay for it when they buy their equity tho.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:42 PM on March 15


You would take a spontaneous and noble gesture and turn it into socialism.
Damn straight. Buying a round is an act of subversion designed to bring down your freedoms. Or something.

You do know that you don't have to agree to be in the round, don't you?
posted by arcticseal at 7:43 PM on March 15


I'm American: When I lived in England and people began buying me drinks, I realized that I had friends I've known for decades and we'd never bought each other drinks.

I was really worried about making sure I carried my weight, but several people assured me that somehow it would even out in the end. I never saw a pressure to drink at the same rate as anyone else. Being American there was no way I was going to keep up anyhow.

Buying rounds is one of the best things about English culture, you should be proud.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:45 PM on March 15 [14 favorites]


I hate when I have half a pint left and somebody goes, "sup up and I'll buy you another", because I'm drinking at my rate not theirs. If they're the same people who a few days later say something like, "I had eight pints and I was bladdered", then it's a doubly bad sign. English people have shown themselves incapable of regulating their drinking at the best of times, so crowdsourcing how much you should drink seems like a mystifyingly bad idea.

(*Okay, nobody I would drink with is still young enough to get away with saying that, but still.)
posted by Thing at 7:54 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


First off, it's Intercontinental, or Transatlantic, not Transcontinental. But then, whoever wrote this article is a nitwit.

I have a lot of expat British friends, and I find the practice of buying rounds (for your drinking companions, not necessarily the entire bar) is a charming social custom. It does sometimes lead to drinking one more than you might have, but that is part of the charm (admittedly best enjoyed when you're not driving).
posted by mr vino at 7:57 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


> risking the chance that I'll end up buying more for you than you have done for me.

I knew I had become a grownup when this stopped mattering to me.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:01 PM on March 15 [34 favorites]


Buying rounds is clearly a scheme to prompt slow drinks to drink faster. So drink the hell up.
posted by GuyZero at 8:12 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I knew I had become a grownup when this stopped mattering to me.

Charmed, I'm sure.
posted by Thing at 8:13 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


There's another upside to buying rounds; it's quicker. You don't have to go through the individual transactions of ordering and paying. The group orders and pays and then is done, compared to order, pay, order, pay, order, pay.
posted by ZaneJ. at 8:17 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


In related news, ethnic tensions escalate as it is revealed that 'Polite' Britons died on Titanic.
posted by Aiwen at 8:24 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


> Charmed, I'm sure.

Sorry that was jerky. First round's on me.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:37 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Odd. American here that has always bought in rounds. Not of some annoying anglophile conceit, but just because it makes sense. Or maybe because I'm friends with too many people that like to drink, dunno.

When I first read that this was about rounds, I assumed it was the US custom and that those in the UK didn't buy in rounds.
posted by jpe at 8:39 PM on March 15


I take about an hour to get through a single beer so I doubt that rounds would work out for me unless my companions were similarly slow drinkers. Fortunately in my thirty years of drinking, I've never been in a buying rounds situation.
posted by octothorpe at 8:53 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


The problem with letting Americans buy rounds is oftentimes they come back with a round of Jaegermeister. Best not to.
posted by fshgrl at 8:56 PM on March 15 [15 favorites]


Also pitchers are so much more confusing than rounds. Who gets to drink from it? What about latecomers? Do I buy two of the same beer or two different?
posted by fshgrl at 8:58 PM on March 15


Just drink alone. Then you're doing it both ways at the same time!
posted by axiom at 9:06 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


When I was younger, I was told the story that my sister's boyfriend's mother was the sort of "Patient Zero" for the name "Mallory." I met this woman a number of times, and she was lovely, but the idea was that "Mallory" was a virtually unheard-of name when she was given it, and then a guy in college fell deeply into unrequited love with her, went on to create Family Ties, and named Justine Bateman's character after her.

After which the name gained whatever small degree of popularity it has now.

That woman, who I presume is still lovely, is now fairly closely related to the Clintons, by marriage.

No real point to that, the names just reminded me of a stupid story. (and Josephine is one of my favorite names in existence, for some reason.)
posted by Navelgazer at 9:15 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]


But then, whoever wrote this article is a nitwit.

You say that about Mallory again and I will hurt your face!

(I have just discovered her and where has she been all my life.)
posted by mudpuppie at 9:16 PM on March 15 [12 favorites]


pitchers are so much more confusing than rounds.

What? No way, pitchers are the easiest way to drink.

Who gets to drink from it?

Everyone.

What about latecomers?

They figure out the cost per cup and throw that down at the end or throw some cash in on the next one if you're buying individually. Or whatever, who cares pitchers are cheap.

Do I buy two of the same beer or two different?

You get the cheapest one and you continue to get it. Repeat.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:22 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Mallory is right though. The most annoying thing about rounds: How do you carry all those drinks if you have > 3 people? Screw that. I'll see you back here in 10 minutes with a whiskey ginger ale.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:25 PM on March 15


What? No way, pitchers are the easiest way to drink.

What are the chances that a group of people are going to agree on one of the 20 different beers on tap for a pitcher?
posted by octothorpe at 9:29 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


In my experience, it isn't about getting them to agree. It is merely about the presence of the pitcher and having glasses enough to go around.

Whoever buys chooses, everyone is happy to have some.
posted by hippybear at 9:36 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]


I hate rounds. When I lived in England, I hated them extra, because it was so obligatory. I am a one-drink girl - two on a very special occasion. But since I never went out without at least five or six friends, I basically had to fork out three to six times as much as I would have spent otherwise.

It was JUST about balanced out by the fact that random men would frequently buy my drink for no reason at all, and not even seem to expect conversation from it.

Now that I am less poor, and my friends are often worse off than me, and I live in Australia where rounds are frequently done, but not obligatorily, and where no one will think worse of you for leaving before it's "your turn", I actually buy rounds quite often. Also, alcohol is cheaper here. I can get a jug of beer for the table for about $15, or a bottle of wine for the same price, whereas that would barely have got me a single drink in London back in the days of a terrible exchange rate.
posted by lollusc at 9:36 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


The other nice thing about Australian rounds is that about 50% of the time, people shove money at you when you get back with the drinks anyway. Even if you insist it's your treat. In fact, it happens quite often that I offer to buy the table a couple of jugs of beer, pay $30, and then come back to find a pile of more than $30 in front of my seat, with no one willing to take any back. Profit!
posted by lollusc at 9:39 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Are there no Americans who did rounds? My social norm in college was definitely rounds, though my social norm in college was also everyone drinking beer. I think we all stopped with rounds being the norm a few years out of college -- is that the difference between US and England? Or do most Americans not do rounds even when everyone's binge-drinking in college?
posted by jaguar at 9:44 PM on March 15


Whoever buys chooses, everyone is happy to have some.

Maybe I just have too many friends with strong (and conflicting) opinions about alcohol.
posted by octothorpe at 9:47 PM on March 15


Possibly. People who turn their noses up at beer freely offered are too snooty for my lot.
posted by hippybear at 9:50 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]


The main problem with pitchers is that there's three and change pints in one. Disappointingly small for the team after the game and sucky to divide to boot. Late comers are easy: they buy the next pitcher.
posted by bonehead at 10:01 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


See, we do neither. "Anyone want another?" you ask when you go get your next drink. Someone who does, says yes, cranberry vodka or whatever, and you buy them one this time, and they probably buy you another later, or bought you one earlier. People still nursing their obscure craft beer or whiskey or whatever, say "no thanks," and you're good. Most I've ever had to buy besides my own was three drinks, usually some of the group are over at the pool table or having a smoke anyway, so there's only a few of you holding down the table.

It doesn't work if you have shitty friends who take advantage and don't pay you back, but then, shitty friends are shitty. You probably shouldn't drink with them, they suck.
posted by emjaybee at 10:04 PM on March 15 [26 favorites]


How about order your own drink, or split a pitcher, or get a round for the table, or really however you prefer to drink, but for the love of light lager do not split the check three-ways or six-ways or however many people are at the table or at least make a valiant attempt to treat your friends or be treated.

From what I recollect from my Korean drinking days, whoever has more status or money or just got some great news is the one who plonks down the cash for the bill. Sometimes there's a mad drunken scramble for the bill because it's not clear who ought to be paying but you feel certain that your friends will get you next time. Or the next time. Or if they are really broke then you just don't worry about it.

I get all weirded out when a group of friends gives the bar four different credit cards.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:46 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


OH god. I just remembered. Sometimes we went to those bars where you could buy a whole bottle of whiskey or whatever and if you ordered it that it was definitely on you to pay for it. And whoever came late was obligated to drink double shots until he or she was "caught up." Man, it's a marvel that I have any liver function left at all.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:48 PM on March 15


> shitty friends are shitty. You probably shouldn't drink with them, they suck.

This is the key take-home lesson from this thread.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:49 PM on March 15 [12 favorites]


Just a data point here: rounds slow me down and cause me to drink less, not the reverse.
posted by Segundus at 12:33 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Segundus, rounds thus speed your friends up.
posted by GuyZero at 12:44 AM on March 16


See, we do neither. "Anyone want another?" you ask when you go get your next drink. Someone who does, says yes, cranberry vodka or whatever, and you buy them one this time, and they probably buy you another later, or bought you one earlier. People still nursing their obscure craft beer or whiskey or whatever, say "no thanks," and you're good. Most I've ever had to buy besides my own was three drinks, usually some of the group are over at the pool table or having a smoke anyway, so there's only a few of you holding down the table.

Me and my friends back in our drinking days did this most of the time. Round buying, but for a subset - we'd usually swing by the pool table/darts and include them though. The other way I've seen it done for people who drink slower skip getting a drink, and will be told to skip their round of buying to compensate. Often this means they ended up drinking more or less for free; but they're a slow drinker anyway, so who cares?

For those worried about collecting the drinks of more than 4-5 people; english pubs have trays - you can usually ask to borrow one. The place we used to hang out would start plonking the drinks on a tray when they saw you were round buying, and you just brought it back for the next round, along with empties (or it got scooped up by a barman on empties cleanup)

If you're in a really busy place and carrying a tray is a bad idea, you just draft people from the table to help you carry. Usually someone who's next in line to buy a round.

It's a social custom, and a bonding experience. If you end up not buying a round, you buy one early next time to make it up. Sure, you'll end up better or worse on the course of one night, but they're your friends and presumably they'll be a next time, so it's not like it won't even up in the end. And if not; who seriously gives a flying fuck over whether you or your friend is a drink or two up owed to the other?

The exception is work events, where management buys the rounds, as is only proper.

This made me snort from the article though:
buying a bottle of wine for the whole table requires the whole table to consume the same beverage, like pigs drinking from a trough.
Only one bottle? for the whole table? Au contraire, one bottle per 3 people*, on a slow night, allowing for multiple colours/vintages...

*almost invariably the women, as the men are likely still drinking pints
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:05 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


The Dutch way is to buy rounds, but then spend a great amount of time working out who owns what and making sure everything is settled before the next round is bought, that or getting a bill for the table and spending the last half hour, after you've had the last round, working out who owns what; the later the evening the more difficult this becomes of course.

But you really want to drink with those cloggies who have some knowledge of how the rest of the world deals with these things and gotten embarassed about their national stereotype of penny pinching tightwads, as they're likely to overcompensate buying the rounds.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:26 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


Who are you drinking with?! I'm a slow drinker, and I often stop drinking well before the night is over. I've never had any social pressure when drinking rounds because of this. If you don't want a drink that round, just say so, the person buying won't mind, there's a reason "cheap round" is a saying.

Seriously, we mean it, it all work out in the end.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:30 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: Just drink alone.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:55 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Segundus, rounds thus speed your friends up.

No, in fact generally I have to wait for them, and they take no notice whatever of my speed. You're assuming that each group strikes a compromise, which isn't the case; but even if it were so that would surely result in as much slowing down as speeding up.
posted by Segundus at 3:04 AM on March 16


I'm British - good round systems are about fairness, and typically evolve out of quick discussion. They take into account drinking speed, relative wealth, time of leaving, time of arrival and drink choice. All of this is usually negotiated by a two to five sentence discussion along the lines of:

"Anyone want a drink?"
"That's very kind. Are you sure?" (This carries a mass of subtext, crystallising to 'I am worried this is unfair, are you alright taking on this burden?')
"What you having?" (Yes, I am fine with this but am glad we have noted the gesture and feel confident it will be reciprocated, and not taken advantage of)

There are additional variants for someone having an expensive drink and giving some money, sub-rounds for those who drink faster and build a smaller network, and the last person asked offering to help. It's guess culture in action, and it's lovely when it works.

There are then subtle methods of excluding those who take advantage.

As a culture we're still grappling with couples who buy rounds as a unit rather than individuals as this is unfair to the single.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 3:56 AM on March 16 [12 favorites]


From the comments: "Very important question for Jo/any other British people: how do you navigate round-buying as a non-drinker?!?!"

Umm... non-drinker? Is that one of those funny American things, like televangelists and gun nuts?
posted by Decani at 3:59 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


Most of the places I go have waitstaff and computerized POS systems so there is no issue keeping track of who had what and the drinks come to you instead of you having to fetch your own. I like that better because like others have mentioned I prefer to drink at my own speed and rounds always have a pressure to keep up.

And as long as you can agree on a compromise beer pitchers are great, letting you share while staying at your own pace.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:04 AM on March 16


Possibly. People who turn their noses up at beer freely offered are too snooty for my lot.

Sorry, I guess that would be me. If someone bought a pitcher of crappy beer and offered it, I'd politely decline and walk up to the bar to see what was on tap. Cheap beer gives me a headache.
posted by octothorpe at 4:42 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


One difference I've noticed between rounds in Scotland and England is how the empty glasses are handled:

In Scotland the next round is often procured while some are still finishing the last drink... can't waste any valuable drinking time waiting to get served - the empty glasses then pile up on the table until the bar staff retrieve them.

In England people are more likely to help out the bar staff by returning all the glasses to the bar, although in a busy/crowded bar this is arguably less efficient than having a dedicated (and sober) person doing it.

In France returning glasses to the bar may be illegal
posted by Lanark at 4:49 AM on March 16


I love buying a round and love the act of clinking glasses but I find it incredibly painful to let good bourbon be mixed with diet coke. I love you, buddy, but jezis that's a sin.

And Oh I hate you that you can tell the difference between well Bourbon and excellent brands mixed with your diet coke. You are forcing me to compromise my soul.
posted by surplus at 5:04 AM on March 16


It's interesting to see so much tounge-in-cheek worrying about round-buying as a 'system'. Is there a sociological distinction between a 'system' which must have specific rules (even if they are unspoken) that everyone can contract into, and a 'custom' (or whatever) that does have some structures people will employ if the situation suits, but which is in the end much more flexible? (I'm ignorant here. Just asking if this has a name.) Because it seems to me that there is an anxiety about 'doing it wrong'. Round buying is sufficiently flexible that I don't think you can do it wrong unless you really go out of your way to act in bad faith.

Round-buying has never seemed obligatory to me; there always seem to be ways that have made it possible to demur if it's not your scene that evening (often as not resulting in at least one free drink anyway when your friend decides to be hospitable! Not that one expects this of course hem hem.) You are quite free to do your own thing amidst the round buying. No one will think the less of you for it.
posted by aesop at 5:07 AM on March 16


My friends and I avoid this issue by drinking at house parties. Why pay retail prices for booze to hang out with randos in a crowded room where the music is too loud and sucks?
posted by Aizkolari at 5:33 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


In college, in my Upper Midwest American schools, we took turns buying pitchers.

I'm more concerned by the unwarranted attack on the beautiful "cauldrons of kale gel!" Do you not have these in the UK? Are you barbarians?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:36 AM on March 16


My drink of choice is club soda and “a little bit of all of the different juices that you have, please;” I am not universally beloved by bartenders.

That made me laugh.

Irish person here. Before this article it quite literally never ocurred to me that buying rounds wasn't a universal thing. You mean you would go up to the bar to buy yourself a drink and not ask anyone else if they wanted one? I mean, I hear what people are saying about drinking rates and feeling obligated, but these are your friends, man! Yes there is a tiny bit of pressure, in that you don't want to be The Person Who Never Gets Their Round In, but that's only because that person is clearly lacking in all moral fibre and who wants to be that person?

Actually, though, in the last couple of years my friends and I have instigated the kitty system, whereby we all put £10 down at the start of the night and all drinks are bought out of that until the money runs out (at which point we add another £10, repeat until home time). Then it's just a matter of taking turns to go and place the order. The good thing about this is that for some reason the money always seems to go way further and you spend less over the course of the evening than you would if you were buying rounds (try it! It makes no sense but its true!). Also people who don't drink or who are only having a couple are allowed to put in £5 instead, it being a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a teetotal frame of mind must be in want of no more than two soft drinks. If you're drinking slowly and you're not ready for the next one when someone is going to the bar, just wait til you want one then ask the Keeper of the Kitty for some money - there must always be a Keeper, make sure you trust this person, but then dont drink with people you don't trust. When the first lot of money runs out people who don't want any more or who are leaving don't have to contribute any more. And bonus - money left at the end of the night can be spent on communal chips/taxis. It's a perfect system - in fact I feel like toasting it. Anyone want anything?
posted by billiebee at 6:03 AM on March 16 [18 favorites]


In England people are more likely to help out the bar staff by returning all the glasses to the bar

A bar woman at my old local used to shout at us if we didn't bring our glasses back.
posted by popcassady at 6:04 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Are you sure?

If I had a penny for every time I said that, I'd have enough to stand the round for a year. British social mores run deep.
posted by arcticseal at 6:36 AM on March 16


My preferred method is to offer to buy a drink when I go to purchase mine and bitterly, but silently, resent the thoughtless fool that takes me up on my offer.
posted by vorpal bunny at 7:08 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


I've come to the conclusion that rounds is one of those things that seems totally obvious if you live in a culture where it's practiced and completely confusing and stressful if you're just visiting that culture. I spent a year in Dublin in college, and it totally stressed me out. I'm a short woman, which means that it is not unusual for me to be out drinking with guys who are literally a foot taller than me. I probably shouldn't try to keep up with people who have so much more body mass than me, but I didn't want to fuck up the rounds thing, and I also didn't want to seem like a lightweight, so I tried. (At some point I learned the phrase "make mine a glass," and then sometimes I went in for half-pints rather than pints. But half-pints are sort of lame, so I didn't do that very much.) I think I spent that entire year in a bit of an alcohol haze. To this day, I still don't know if a guy says to you "you drink pints like a Dublin girl" if he's complimenting you, implying that you have a drinking problem, or both.

Probably I would have been a little more sober during my year in Ireland if I hadn't been so worried about what people thought about me, but that's a subject for a different post!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:12 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


Probably I would have been a little more sober during my year in Ireland if I hadn't been so worried about what people thought about me

Don't worry, that's why we all drink too.
posted by billiebee at 7:34 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


Hah! Take that Limey bastards.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:47 AM on March 16


Rounds are something I've never had enough money to do. If you go to a pub with exactly enough money for two pints and no more (and even that's a stretch), you're not going to be buying six or seven drinks.

And the people I hung out with in Britain - all post-graduate students - had absolutely no problem with everyone getting their own (counted to the penny) drinks. and yay! no tipping. Just lovely properly-paid pub staff.
posted by jb at 8:50 AM on March 16


That also goes for equal spitting of bills in restaurants. If we didn't all order exactly the same thing, I will be calculating exactly what I owe (including tax & tip) and no more. I'm not eating the cheapest thing on the menu just to subsidize someone else's steak.
posted by jb at 8:52 AM on March 16


eyeofthetiger's description is my experience of drinking in UK pubs. It was stressful at first, because I showed up as a broke student and would go out in large groups, but pretty much everybody was fair-minded. The older members of the group who had Real Jobs would frequently do multiple rounds without expecting reciprocation, because they enjoyed our company and wanted us to be able to participate. That was the hardest part for me to accept, as a rugged American Individual, but when I did eventually end up with actually money, I basically did the same thing when somebody was skint. I do honestly feel like it all balanced itself out.

As with most unwritten social customs, there's an underlying rule that says "Don't Take the Piss": so don't be sneaky, ask your "are you sures" and all of that.

I'd also add that this was mostly how it went in pubs. If we went to a cocktail bar or something, it tended to revert to individual ordering, or at least smaller sub-groups buying in rounds.

(I did not go to fancy cocktail bars very often until I had a job)
posted by menialjoy at 9:06 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


In a proper English pub the only music you will hear is the silent harmony of bitter beer and the bitter old men who started drinking that morning.
posted by srboisvert at 9:13 AM on March 16


It justs seems like a lot of pointless complication when everyone could just buy what they wanted with their own money and not have to deal with confusing rules that seem to be as strict as they are unwritten.
posted by octothorpe at 9:41 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: It justs seems like a lot of pointless complication when everyone could just buy what they wanted with their own money $5 and not have to deal with confusing rules that seem to be as strict as they are unwritten.
posted by dendrochronologizer at 9:49 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I drink cocktails, not beer or wine, and have done round buying in small groups where we switch off but in those instances we're not getting the same thing for the whole table. Why would you force all your friends to drink the same thing as you?
posted by NoraReed at 9:50 AM on March 16


Well I guess nobody wants a round then? I'll just get one for myself.

And fuck you all if you expect me to share my crisps.
posted by popcassady at 9:53 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Yeah, how do Americans deal with snacks like crisps or nuts in bars? Do you tear the packet open on the table and let everyone have some, or guard them close to your chest like a poker hand 'I paid for these get your own damn snacks freeloader'?
posted by Hogshead at 10:42 AM on March 16


My friend Steph, while talking about some of her parents' expectations regarding birthday cards, also ended up coming up with the perhaps the best summary of English culture I have ever heard.

"It's kind of an unwritten rule of theirs."
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. But it's unwritten in stone."
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:46 AM on March 16 [27 favorites]


That also goes for equal spitting of bills in restaurants. If we didn't all order exactly the same thing, I will be calculating exactly what I owe (including tax & tip) and no more. I'm not eating the cheapest thing on the menu just to subsidize someone else's steak.

I kind of hate this attitude, because it always makes paying for the meal kind of a pain if the place doesn't do separate checks. If someone is really upset, I usually suggest a general rule -- "OK, we all throw in $30 bucks, except Kim, who only had a salad, who puts in $15. OK? When I am eating out with a friend where I know they have money issues, I usually offer to pay, since I can afford it most of the time. Occasionally, when I knew a lot of grad students at conferences, I would just buy the meal for the table, since they were all broke.

Obviously, this matters a lot more for regular events -- if you are constantly subsidizing someone's giant-steak-and-top-shelf-whiskey habit, that is way more annoying than ending up overpaying by $10 a few times a year.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:04 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure why the article argues that rounds involve getting everyone else the same drinks. Sometimes with wine but only after a politeness standoff checking everyone genuinely is fine with white wine.

The added benefit of a round system is that when you can no longer remember everyone's order/carry it without spilling it, its a good time to stop.
posted by eyeofthetiger at 11:13 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Irish person here. Before this article it quite literally never ocurred to me that buying rounds wasn't a universal thing. You mean you would go up to the bar to buy yourself a drink and not ask anyone else if they wanted one?

You say that like you're doing them a favour. How is it a favour when you're just obligating them to reciprocate?

If everyone buys their own drinks, there's no social pressure to overspend/overdrink, no resentment of freeloaders, no having to choke down disgusting swill you didn't choose, etc.

If there's an upside to buying rounds, I'm not seeing it.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:16 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I think the upside is that reciprocity creates social bonds. It's a cultural practice that binds members of the group together, kind of like how people give each other Christmas presents even though it would be more efficient for everyone just to go out and get whatever they wanted for themselves.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:23 AM on March 16 [7 favorites]


I think the upside is that reciprocity creates social bonds.

Or does it separate the classes?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:27 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Yeah, how do Americans deal with snacks like crisps or nuts in bars? Do you tear the packet open on the table and let everyone have some, or guard them close to your chest like a poker hand 'I paid for these get your own damn snacks freeloader'?

At some places nuts or salty snack mix foods are free. I think the bars figure the salt will keep you drinking. Other times someone will order fries or some other snack. Usually someone treats or we split the cost. I can't remember ever actually eating a packet (or bag) of crisps (potato chips) or nuts at a bar. Is that a common thing in the UK?
posted by Area Man at 11:55 AM on March 16


Yeah, how do Americans deal with snacks like crisps or nuts in bars?

I think I've only ever seen chips(crisps) for sale in dark old-man bars where there's a dusty rack of off-brand packets behind the bar but I've never seen anyone actually eat them.

Usually bar food will be stuff like chicken wings, nachos, fries or (around here) pierogies. They'll usually be for the table and everyone will chip for the cost in but that's food not alcohol.
posted by octothorpe at 12:27 PM on March 16


I kind of hate this attitude, because it always makes paying for the meal kind of a pain if the place doesn't do separate checks.

It doesn't make things difficult if you just have a calculator - and now most of us carry one at all times. I take what I ordered, add it up, multiply by 1.3 (to add 13% for tax and 17% for tip - 15% is standard in Canada), and get an exact amount. I leave this amount -- and unlike people who just say "oh, let's all just throw $x in", bills done this way by everyone NEVER come up short for tax or tip. I argue so much less with my friends who are happy doing this than those who just want to guess (and usually underestimate their own large order).

But I really cannot afford to subsidize someone else's expensive meal even once. I'm usually only eating/drinking out to please someone else anyways (it's their birthday, they wanted to go out, etc), so by paying for my own meal I'm subsidizing their pleasure (as opposed to them inviting me to their house). It would be lovely if my much more well-employed friends would buy me dinner, but that's just not done - often because they are poor like me (and using the same system to pay the bill), or because it would be awkward (I could never pay for their meal).

Maybe if I'd ever had a time in my life when eating out was an affordable pleasure, I would feel the same way. I no longer have to literally count pennies to buy a cup of coffee, which has made me much more generous about buying other people coffee. But when your budget for eating out is closer to $40 a month than $400, insisting on paying your share and not part of everyone else's is just logical.
posted by jb at 12:28 PM on March 16


My SO once went to a not-exactly-optional dinner with classmates. As he didn't have much money, he ordered a $10 burger and nothing else; he also does not drink alcohol at all. The other students ordered more expensive meals and lots of wine.

They all insisted on splitting the bill equally at the end, because the math was too hard (after all that wine he didn't drink). He had to pay $50.
posted by jb at 12:34 PM on March 16


When I was in England and people were buying rounds I never once felt any pressure to drink. If some one was skint they would be under no obligation to buy. No one appeared to be counting who was doing what.

Okay this made me a little anxious, because as an American I was still worried about keeping straight who owed who what, but I was also in awe of this simple, grown-up custom. My English friends were kind of amused that I was worried about it.

I also saw it happen in every day situations at work, where someone was covered for, or cheered up, or given the benefit of the doubt, little things that would never happen in an American workplace.

Not saying everyone was a perfect angel, but this generosity in small things really impressed me.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:16 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]


When you are broke, you really need to know your friends, but otherwise, rounds are the way.
When I was a student, I went to a summer school in Italy, and was impressed to see that there was almost a competition to pay the round. It has definitely formed my habits ever since, and I can't say it has cost me more than just paying for myself when I calculate the balance over time.
posted by mumimor at 1:59 PM on March 16


btw, in Southern Europe, people do not drink much, but alcohol and soda costs almost the same, so it was not at all about getting drunk.
And people would by rounds of snacks as well as drinks.
posted by mumimor at 2:01 PM on March 16


Why would you force all your friends to drink the same thing as you?

A round just means all the drinks for the table, not the same drink for everyone. Which means trying to remember them all as you walk up to the bar muttering under your breath "Two pints of Harp, a vodka and cranberry, a bottle of Magners and a Guinness...Two pints of Harp, a vodka and cranberry, a bottle of Magners and a Guinness..."

You mean you would go up to the bar to buy yourself a drink and not ask anyone else if they wanted one?

You say that like you're doing them a favour. How is it a favour when you're just obligating them to reciprocate?


Was only saying it tongue-in-cheek, like. No offense mate. Here, let me buy you a pint.
posted by billiebee at 3:26 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


I was a bartender for many years in a little, townie type place in the Midwest. The regulars were always buying rounds for their groups. Of course, at least one group of these people would probably qualify as hardcore alcoholics, and the others were usually out after work for a few drinks. It always seemed to work out in the end, and it really does create the social bond that people mention.

That said, being someone who doesn't drink much, rounds do not work for me at all, bonding or not. It really doesn't balance out to buy rounds every time you go out when you only have a drink or two while everyone else is leaning towards double digits. Round buying works best when the group more or less keeps a similar pace.
posted by madelf at 5:17 PM on March 16


The "Are you sure?" thing is hilarious too because, amongst my friends at least, we always express surprise when the first round is brought. "Alright, what'll you have?" "Oh! Are you sure?", as if we've never done it before.

I love rounds because they minimise time spent away waiting at the bar, so everyone gets to hang out more. With my close friends they tend to be very fluid though, with whoever approaches the end of their drink first buying a handful for anyone else nearly done. The heavy drinkers simply end up buying more and also getting more bought for them.
posted by lucidium at 5:29 PM on March 16


For soft drinks, you join in the round system but probably only pay about half as often as the alcohol drinkers. I usually have one glass of wine then switch to soft drinks (i'm a small woman) so I pay for the first round, then am happy for other people to buy me soft drinks all night long knowing I've already put enough money in on that first round to have paid my way. You should be spending about the same buying rounds as you would buying separately, but without all having to queue separately at the bar (bar queues can be 15-20mins long, so it makes sense to minimise the number of times you have to go up. Surely if you buy all your drinks separately you all just spend the entire night queuing up and no actual time spent with your friends?)

There's no stigma to ordering soft drinks, and no stigma to sitting out a round if you still have half a pint left, so I'm not sure how anyone is forced to drink. If there are six of you drinking and you only stay in the pub for two rounds, the people who haven't contributed just make sure they go first next time. The complaint is "he never gets a round in", not "on this occasion, he didn't get a round in". It's expected that you'll keep a vague track and it will all work itself out in the end.
posted by tinkletown at 5:14 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I'm probably missing something, but if you buy everyone a beer and then they all buy you soft drinks, which cost half as much as beers, then how are you spending about the same buying rounds as you would be if you were paying separately? You bought them something that costs twice as much as what they bought you, right?

Maybe the idea is that everyone should spend roughly the same amount for a night out regardless of how much they drink?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:06 AM on March 17


Rounds are never meant to exactly even out. The whole point is that they constitute a continuous exchange of gifts that can never be exactly balanced & this is exactly the kind of ongoing mutual obligation that ties social groups together.
posted by pharm at 6:25 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


If you're drinking soft drinks and everyone else is on beer then you only buy a round once, everyone else buys a round twice. So for instance if there are three other people, you'll buy one round but get six drinks bought for you. It's not explicit and it isn't written in stone, but you basically buy less frequently if your drinks are significantly cheaper. A similar thing happens if one person has much much less money that other people. There is also an assumption that these things will work out fairly evenly over a few nights out. I might spend £30 one night but then pay nothing a week later.

Equally, if you order a very expensive drink on somebody else's round you should offer them some money as well, or make sure you buy a LOT of rounds that evening to make up for it (ordering a cocktail when everyone else is drinking beer is pretty rude, and people will quickly stop including you in the rounds by going to the bar when you still have a glass full, or waiting till you go to the toilet. I have a friend who used to do this when I was at Uni - we would all go clubbing and be drinking mostly tap water, and she would ask for a bloody £15 champagne cocktail. She used to get a lot of older men buying her drinks, and was just incredibly oblivious. We used to make damn sure her back was turned when we went to the bar).

Finally, nobody's buying drinks for 16 people, there are sub-groups buying rounds independently within the larger group. You usually buy for 4-6 people.

Are American bars all on waitress service or something? Because if you were in a pub like this I can't imagine you'd all go up to the bar separately - going to the bar is a complete expedition, the queue would be about 20mins. You wouldn't actually spend any time with your friends.
posted by tinkletown at 9:16 AM on March 17


People seem to be assuming that the alternative to rounds is going up to the bar separately. That isn't my experience (Australia and New Zealand). Usually, even when not doing rounds, if you are heading to the bar, you ask if you can get anyone else's drink, and they give you money and tell you what to bring them. The difference with rounds is just that they don't give you money.
posted by lollusc at 6:23 PM on March 17


Table service is pretty common at least at the bars I go to. But even if there wasn't, if a bar was so crowded that there was a 20 minute line for drinks, I'm pretty sure that I we'd find somewhere else to be.
posted by octothorpe at 7:34 PM on March 17


Round buying can be a bit fraught if you are low on cash, but there is always the option to opt out. If you can't afford to buy a round you just say that, and that honesty is usually met with your drinks being bought all night because friends. I have had friends that really try hard to opt out due to the feelings of guilt that they have in accepting yet another drink (over the period of years, sometimes), but in the end they will buy rounds when they have cash so they will assuage their feelings eventually.

As regards the idea that round buying might separate the classes, as SysReq suggests, it sometimes does, but not in the way you might expect. IME round buying is the norm for people from a working class background, whereas the monied are often tighter with money and don't buy rounds or use it as a way to demonstrate their largess in a showy and intrusive way, i.e they don't get it.

Recently I have been handing off the trouble of trying to choose something new and interesting to drink to the round buyer, which has resulted in some successes (Deviant Dale's, Kernel Chinook Amarillo Summit, Odell's St Lupulin, Founder's Breakfast Stout, Hawkshead IPA) and some other experiences (Vernal Minthe Stout).
posted by asok at 6:57 AM on March 18


Waiting a while at the bar is more common in the UK where bar staff are very unlikely to take one order while they are collecting cash for the last, assume that you'll have the same again (i.e. remember your entire order from last time) or offer table service. So they are more often efficient in the US, that is one difference I have noticed. But then in the US you sometimes can't sit at a table (only at the bar) unless you want table service (and there's a queue to sit down) and you are expected to start a tab (subsequently there is less time spent dealing with cash) and you are expected to tip. If you don't tip, don't expect any service. Sometimes even if you do tip the server who was your best mate 10 minutes ago becomes surly and uncommunicative because they thought their show of camaraderie was worth more than the usual tip.
At the moment there is a trend in the UK for pubs/bars with lots of real/craft ales and staff who know what they are selling, are interested in beer and want the customers to be happy, which is all great. New pubs are opening, old ones are getting revitalised, it's a change from the relentless closures and conversions to Tesco Metros. Some even offer table service, which can be dangerous to the wallet and screws with the usual round buying etiquette.
posted by asok at 7:24 AM on March 18


« Older Delivering ten-minute chunks of surreal Irish humo...  |  Goodnight Clock. In which the ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments