Class conscious - Andrew Martin on the etiquette for your local pub

Tips for the ordinary pub: watch football, ignore the music, never say "David Hare"

Dear Henry: - Thanks for the e-mail, and congratulations on buying the house in Camberwell. I agree that £950,000 sounds like a reasonable price, and you should ignore Josh when he says that actually you're in Peckham. He's only jealous. He always says he lives in "Bow borders", but we all know it's really Plaistow.

You say there's a pub around the corner, The Lager Top, and you think you ought to show your face, but you'd like some advice about how to conduct yourself in there. To begin with, you mustn't worry that you haven't been able to find The Lager Top in your guide to pubs with no piped music, or in The Good Pub Guide, or any Camra guide, or gastropub guide, or Time Out guide, or even in the phonebook. The Lager Top probably does have piped music, or a jukebox at least, and you're just going to have to accustom yourself to this fact, which is irrelevant in any case because the first rule of going into an ordinary pub is: ignore the music. The experienced goer to such pubs would no more exclaim: "God, bloody Robbie Williams again!" than he would utter, upon entering the bar: "Gosh, it's awfully smoky in here!", or say censoriously to the barmaid: "I see you have nothing on draught."

Sometimes, purely by accident, a record of the sort approved by you and me - something by Tori Amos, REM or the Red Hot Chili Peppers - will be played, but you certainly shouldn't say: "Have you heard the album this came off? It got five stars in Q." Put money in the jukebox if you must, but beware that, as you walk away having selected half a dozen classics, it will probably be a power ballad by the iron-lunged Michael Bolton that begins blaring from the machine, your money having triggered the track next in line in the electronic memory. You'll then spend the next half-hour worrying that everyone in the pub thinks you're a Michael Bolton fan. But don't worry: I can assure you that the people in The Lager Top do not know that there's anything wrong with Michael Bolton.

The football on the television is a different matter. This you cannot afford to ignore without attracting potentially hostile attention, but if in doubt stay silent. It is better to make no remark at all than say: "Dep v Mil? What on earth does that mean?" (It means Deportivo v Milan.) You don't have to follow every incident of play, but when a goal is scored you will be required to make some sort of observation, and "Oh, good shot!" will not do. Instead, try: "F***ing deflection, weren't it?" This will be impressive, even if your listeners have no idea what you're talking about - in fact, especially then.

Another important rule: don't order wine in an ordinary pub. Even The Lager Top may have a wine list chalked up on a blackboard behind the bar, and it may look plausible, listing "red wines", "white wines", Chateau this and that, but ignore this list. It is a bluff, and you are on no account to call the bluff by attempting to order from it.

Should you read while in The Lager Top? Somebody recently published a book called The Pub in Literature, but there's no room for literature in the pub. Well, you might get away with a tabloid, but I don't mean the tabloid Indy, Henry. The only thing you can safely read is a publication about sport. I sometimes read Autosport in ordinary pubs, and although this is regarded as a very strange magazine - in the sense that it's not about football - it does imply possession of a big, fast car.

Lastly, there are many words and expressions that should never be spoken in an ordinary pub, and I'll start you off with a few: "multiculturalism", "zeitgeist", "linguini", "new media", "underfloor heating" and "David Hare". Cheers!


This article first appeared in the 19 April 2004 issue of the New Statesman, Get out now