You know that the British pub is the most important place where socialization and social bonding
take place. If you are familiar with the pub etiquette, you will enjoy being in a pub, but if you are
a 'poor' tourist, you might even leave the pub without being served at all. The first thing you must know
that there is no table service in an English pub. If you don't know this you might wait for ages until
you are served or you realize yourself that you must fetch your drinks or pub food at the counter by yourself.
But even if you're clever enough to have noticed this, how do you behave at the counter? One thing you surpringly
do not have to observe is that you don't have to queue up at the counter. Before, however, you hold your
glass of ale in your hand, you have to know more sohisticated patterns of behaviour.
The following text offers you some insight into the English way of 'doing things', i.e. being eventually served,
without making a fool of yourself :
The Pantomime Rule
The rules of English pub-talk regulate non-verbal as well as verbal communication - in fact, some of them
actively prohibit use of the verbal medium, such as the pantomime rule. Bar staff do their best to ensure
that everyone is served in proper turn, but it is still necessary to attract their attention and make them
aware that one is waiting to be served. There is, however, a strict etiquette involved in attracting the
attention of bar staff: this must be done without speaking, without making any noise and without resorting
to the vulgarity of obvious gesticulation. ...
The prescribed approach is best described as a sort of subtle pantomime - not the kind of pantomime we see
on stage at Christmas, but more like an Ingmar Bergman film in which the twitch of an eyebrow speaks
volumes. The object is to make eye contact with the barman. But calling out to him is not permitted,
and almost all other obvious means of attracting attention, such as tapping coins on the counter,
snapping fingers or waving are equally frowned upon.
lt is acceptable to let bar staff know one is waiting to be served by holding money or an empty glass
in one's hand. The pantomime rule allows us to tilt the empty glass, or perhaps turn it slowly in a
circular motion (some seasoned pubgoers told me that this indicates the passing of time). The etiquette
here is frighteningly precise: it is permitted to perch one's elbow on the bar, for example, with either
money or an empty glass in a raised hand, but not to raise one's whole arm and wave the notes or glass
The pantomime rule requires the adoption of an expectant, hopeful, even slightly anxious expression.
If a customer looks too contented, bar staff may assume that he or she is already being served. Those
waiting to be served must stay alert and keep their eye on the bar staff at all times. Once eye contact
is made, a quick lift of the eyebrows, sometimes accompanied by an upward jerk of the chin, and a hopeful
smile, lets the staff know you are waiting. They respond to these pantomime signals with a smile or a nod,
a raised finger or hand, and perhaps a similar eyebrow-lift. This is code for 'l see that you are waiting
and will serve you as soon as possible'.
The English perform this pantomirne sequence instinctively, without being aware of following a rigid
etiquette, and never question the extraordinary handicaps (no speaking, no waving, no noise, constant
alertness to subtle non-verbal signals) imposed by the rule. Foreigners find the eyebrow-twitching
pantomime ritual baffling - incredulous tourists often told me that they could not understand how
the English ever managed to buy themselves a drink - but it is surprisingly effective. Everyone does
get served, usually in the right order, and without undue fuss, noise or argument.
From: Watching the English - The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox, Hodder& Stoughton, GB 2004, pp.91/92