Sarah Lyall in The Times of London:
In a nation of the chronically ill-at-ease, alcohol is the lubricant that eases the pain of frightening social encounters, an essential prelude to relaxation, to joie de vivre and even, at times, to rudimentary conversation. But because Britain has what is known as an “ambivalent alcohol culture” – which means the British haven’t worked it out completely – they can take their drinking too far, too fast, with corrosive consequences to health, happiness and productivity.
I have many British friends who in America would be considered functioning alcoholics – the equivalent of 1950s Cheeveresque businessmen from suburban Connecticut who greeted the end of the workday with a couple of predinner martinis before moving on to wine and whisky. Heavy drinking is part of the fabric of their lives and it would be considered rude to comment on it.
I had come from New York, a city where this kind of drinking is reserved for the weekend and drinking to the point of insensibility is an activity only for the very young or the very likely to be headed for AA. By contrast, Britons seemed to drink all the time. It was a shock to see how enthusiastically they knocked back the booze at Sunday lunches in the country and how high their tolerance was. It was a shock to see, after we’d had our first weekday dinner party (everyone stayed until 1am, never mind their jobs), that the table was covered in twice as many empty wine bottles as there had been guests.