Yes, you British drink too much, and I love you all the more for it
It wouldn’t be Christmas without the annual splurge of stories about emergency services steeling themselves to deal with “binge drinking Britain”. This year, the NHS has set aside £300,000 for “drunk tanks” over the festive season: specific areas where the irresponsibly plastered can check in after 23 Christmas Eve pints without having to add to A&E bottlenecks.
Still, in the spirit of holiday cheer, as a French native, I would like to make a case for British drinking culture. Not the paralytic, bare-legged, mini-skirted ladies slumped outside the city centre pub at the end of a heavy night, or the louts making a scene on the last train home, half-empty cans in hand.
No, I mean the drinking culture embraced by the vast majority of British people. You don’t know how lucky you are.
There’s the joy of arriving at a British friend’s house for lunch, and after journeying through hail, sleet and gridlocked traffic, being greeted with those magic words: “What you need is a stiff drink.” All the better when this is a G&T served English-style (equal measurements of gin and tonic, from what I can make out). The meal itself is always generously and unpretentiously lubricated with “whatever’s going”: wine, beer or buck’s fizz, a recipe for teary reminiscences, embarrassing confessions and endless laughter.
Then there’s your cosy, convivial pub culture, which ought to be listed as intangible heritage by Unesco. What could be more pleasurable than savouring a few too many dark ales while sitting by a crackling fireplace wreathed with tinsel the night before Christmas, or, sozzled on sherry, linking arms with strangers and bawling out the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve?
We French drink well – expertly, even – with a lot of showing off on vintages and terroirs and grape varieties. But we don’t really indulge to excess. This is not virtue so much as a testament to our obsession with looking sophisticated, and our determination never to let our masks drop. Life in France is about keeping up appearances, often at the expense of enjoyment.At least someone French will miss us when the inevitable hard Brexit crash lands.