Get ready for some crazy honesty. Parties are an essential part of both U.S. and UK universities. The drinking culture in each is extremely different but still very important to students. If you are a parent, sibling or significant other and still unaware of all of this information…Sorry.
Now I’m not a huge party person and I’m sure someone in Alpha Kappa Theta Omega Pi has much more experience. But you’re hearing it from me, not them. I’m going to address the general population and all those frat boys drunk off beer can chill out in a corner and not try to argue that Americans party harder than the British.
Real talk: British college students can party way harder than American college students.
In my experience, the general American college student couldn’t even make it through a British pre-game. Luckily, I’m not speaking from personal experience. But I’ve seen it happen.
I have had the great privilege to experience college culture in both the U.S. and the UK. I am a junior at the University of California, Los Angeles but have many friends in different U.S. and UK universities. I learn a lot whenever I see any of them (or even visit their universities). I also have a baby sister that just went off to university in London. We spent days discussing what to do to not be a complete disaster during “Fresher’s Week.”
Think of the UK’s Fresher’s Week as an X-Rated version of our orientation. Kids basically spend a week (or in some places, two) getting nonstop drunk. Everyone. That’s all they do. All day.
The English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish destroy every “hardcore” American frat boy in existence. They throw up, go to the bathroom to clean up and are back in 10 minutes ready to keep going. For many Americans, throwing up at 10 p.m. and getting carried home by two of your friends is pretty normal. The Brits would be disappointed in us.
The British are trained to expect and highly anticipate the excitement of Fresher’s Week. Even most of those coming internationally cannot wait for it. It’s part of the experience. People get very good at living their life the next day very hungover. Work, class, meeting your boyfriend’s parents—all hungover.
The biggest thing that every under-21 American gets excited over (particularly on planes) is that the drinking age is 18 in the UK. These kids can legally drink from high school. Many start sooner.
Underage drinking is found in America, but less so. I feel like you don’t run across kids who start binge drinking at 13. When I went to my fancy private all-girls high school in England, I knew half a dozen girls who started then. And just kept on going.
I remember when I was in Edinburgh, Scotland last summer, I spend a whole month just with a load of UK university students. They were all a few years older than me and all grew up in England.
One day, we were in Sainsbury’s (a British grocery store) and we wandered down the alcohol aisle. They were all joking around when I spotted this alcohol that was the same color as the Night King’s eyes. If you don’t know that reference, re-evaluate your life choices. The conclusion for those of you living under a rock: it was bright, bright blue.
Well, when I asked why something so fancy was so cheap, they all laughed. It turns out that this alcohol, WKD, is a cheap watered down vodka that has a load of sugar in it so tastes pretty harmless. It’s common for teenagers to drink it in parks and pretend to be cool.
So what did we end up doing? Buying it, sitting in the park and laughing about the nostalgia of being a teenager in England. P.S. I was allowed to join the conversations because I lived in England form aged 10-15. Even though I wasn’t badass enough back then to underage drink in a park, I knew people who did.
The higher age limit of 18 doesn’t allow young teenagers to legally buy alcohol. But it does allow the Brits to go to pubs, bars and clubs much earlier.
Bradley Curran, a third-year at Portsmouth University said, “The drinking culture is pretty big, but it’s like that at any university, no matter where you go. However, being located in Portsmouth also means there’s lots of clubs near so it’s always there in front of you, which makes it really easy to go out.” I personally think this is the best part of the culture.
Clubs and bars are just like in America, but pubs are different. Pubs are special, and are the epitome of Britishness.
Pubs are like chilled out bars.
They serve basically all alcohol. Beer is probably the go-to drink. People often go out to the pubs after work, during lunch or to watch the World Cup (especially this last year, when even the non-sporty people like me knew what the hell was happening). Pubs are one of Britain’s greatest inventions.
Pubs enable you to go for a nice drink to relax and chat with your friends, which is not as common in America. Much of what people intend to do when they go to bars is get pretty damn drunk, at least at the college age.
For some UK universities though, they aren’t super close to bars like Portsmouth is. Shauna O’Brien, a third-year at Royal Holloway University on the outskirts of London said, “Drinking is a huge part of university culture—the go-to thing to do is to go out to the SU.” Their Student Union (SU) doubles as a club in the evenings, and it’s also where most people go.
Regardless of the location of drinking and what people drink, the culture is heavily focused on drinking. People can be seen drinking at 10 a.m. or 6 a.m. after a night out and it doesn’t really surprise anyone.
The culture means often people can drink for longer and more, but it also means they know their limit. People talk to strangers all the time when out. So friendships and human bonds that form from drinking don’t always end in a hookup or a fight. There are moments where the culture is appreciated, as long as people are aware that enough is definitely enough.
In contrast, let’s head back to the U.S. From what I’ve experienced, the U.S. is much more about getting completely drunk and high without knowing a limit. The Brits are very experienced at knowing when to stop or if they don’t, what will happen and how to deal with it.
Many Americans don’t.
A lot of college kids haven’t been introduced to drinking until they enter college and try the parties—which can be very, very dangerous.
But aside from that obvious fact, a lot of kids are forced to go to frat parties if they want to party because the drinking age is so high. For us at UCLA, fake IDs and older people buying alcohol for younger people are both common, but it definitely makes things a lot harder than in the UK.
In other universities that are more party schools, it’s less of an issue. Syracuse University sophomore Dillan Crowder said, “It is considered part of the norm to go out to bars and parties on the weekends and drink… It is considered normal to pregame the pregame and we even have a wine and beer appreciation class that seniors can take.”
Unfortunately for many schools, including UCLA and Syracuse, frat parties are very common. The UK doesn’t have a comparison, and often don’t understand what frats are besides what they’ve seen in American movies (which honestly, isn’t that far off).
Sexual assault in these frats particularly is becoming a huge issue and is very closely linked to the drinking culture of American college students. It makes Americans and their drinking look much more dangerous than the UK colleges.
The lucky students at Syracuse don’t even need to live through frat parties. Crowder said, “Tuesday and Thursday is bar night, Friday night people go to a frat party, Saturday afternoon with a game is a tailgate party, Saturday night people go to a bar or frat parties and afters, and finally, if there is another game on Sunday, there are still day parties going on.”
In each of those examples, parties are less for relaxing or making friends, and more about drinking as much as possible. What a contrast. And if I might add, a sad one.
Now, why did I bother you with all of this information? It’s not an encouragement or a discouragement to party or drink or do whatever the hell you want. I’m a fan of making mistakes and learning the hard way, so though I don’t binge drink every week, if that’s what you want to do, who am I to tell you not to?
The point: Parties look different everywhere you go, just like culture. There are good and bad, but the lesson is the same no matter what. You can have fun wherever you are, and as long as you’re safe and not hurting anyone, you can do what you want. The people you’re with tend to make or break a party, whether you’re in the UK or the U.S.
However, I hope your biggest take away from this was to go to England to see how it’s done, and more importantly, visit a pub.