Scotland’s Pub Culture: Seeing Scotland Sober

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The one thing that everyone seems to know about Scotland (aside from a frighteningly inaccurate portrayal of William Wallace by Mel Gibson in Braveheart) is that pubs are a massive part of Scottish culture.  Prior to moving to the United Kingdom, I looked at Scottish drinking culture with the naive assumption that pubs are exactly like bars and the main goal of going to one would be to get drunk.  This was something I was a bit concerned about when moving to Scotland as I didn’t drink and I didn’t know how I would navigate around such a huge fixture in Scottish life while still remaining social and involved.

I was raised with a very strong prejudice against drinking, seeing it in black and white terms of right and wrong and associated it with putting myself in a vulnerable state of mind or engaging in reckless behaviour.  This past year has completely changed my perspective in regard to responsible drinking and pub culture in general.

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Pubs in the United Kingdom and Ireland began as a “public house” which welcomed people from different walks of life to socialise in one place.  They are first and foremost a social venue for meeting up with friends, dates or checking out some brilliant music.  So many pubs throughout Edinburgh and elsewhere offer amazing live bands and a lighthearted atmosphere for chilling out with a few friends and a few drinks.  Most pubs will offer scrumptious food throughout the day and many of them have incredible themes to their decor.  Around Edinburgh there’s even a literary pub tour showcasing sights like the Conan Doyle or the recently closed down Jekyll & Hyde. Pub quizzes are a blast and often free to attend with themes varying from all about America to Mean Girls to Star Wars.  You can even win big prizes if you’re versed enough in random facts!

When I got to Scotland I actually felt less peer-pressure to drink and found that everyone I met was really respectful of my choice not to.  Because of this easy-going approach to it all, as the year went on, I realised that my views on the topic were unnecessarily stringent.  In Scotland the drinking age is 18 so many people that you meet will have been drinking for a few more years than us in the states.  This means their tolerance is higher so please think twice before trying to match your Scottish friends in consumption.

One of the best compliments to this culture is the fact that public transport is so convenient and reliable. None of my college age friends here drive and this tends to be the trend across the country. This means that there isn’t nearly the same risk of drunk driving accidents occurring after a night out. There is a 0 tolerance law about drunk driving, even a single beer before driving is enough to lead to serious legal consequences.

The aim of this article is not to assert that drinking isn’t a large part of Scottish culture, because it is and there is no denying that.  But there is so much more to pub culture than initially meets the eye.  So long as you embrace this part of Scottish life responsibly and understand what to expect, you’ll get by swimmingly.