When I moved to Münster and fell in with a work crew, I made a wonderful Scottish friend, one who ticked all the boxes one naturally assumes a Scottish person should tick; barely decipherable accent, orange hair, insatiable ale thirst, named Craig. On the first Friday of a weird and wildly confusing training period, we all trouped in, a motley crew of people from all over the world, and Craig and I almost simultaneously posed the question, ‘where are we drinking tonight?’
Where we were drinking was a funny little pub in the Altstadt of Münster called The James. I cannot quite recall who suggested it, but it fit our needs like a glove and from that day on, every Friday, we’d go to the same pub, take a table and order the same drinks as it rained, snowed and rained some more outside. We’d get progressively louder, progressively more raucous, and wake up the next morning feeling awful. It was precisely the tonic Friday Night Drinks are supposed to be.
My German friends were confused, not entirely sure why I was choosing to go to the same pub every Friday with my work colleagues. And sometimes it wasn’t just every Friday, sometimes it was a mid-week drink or even a Saturday tipple, depending on the lie of the land. ‘You must really like The James, you’re always there.’ That was then linked to the fact The James was an English pub (the good ones always are) and therefore the only reason I was going there was because it was English. Why else would I go to the same pub, every Friday?
Because it’s normal.
And it took me a while to realise that here, it isn’t (necessarily). Where I come from, Friday drinks at the local are part of our culture, a part of how we do things. I didn’t, at the time, quite realise that Friday night drinks with colleagues and friends at the local aren’t as much a part of German culture as they are ours (something we, like the Americans, get from the British). Sure, the Germans drink (plenty) and they love going out to do so (the cafes, restaurants and bars are seemingly full, week round) but the institution of having a set pub that is the known host of a weekly beverage with work mates, doesn’t really exist.
Sure, I really liked The James, nay, loved it. It was pleasingly eccentric, covered in British signs and posters and knick knacks, a slice of Britain in Münster owned by a German Anglophile who drove a Land Rover, wore tweed and spoke like the Queen. It was also a short walk from home, had an extensive ale menu for my Scottish pal and was generous with the wine pour. What more need an excellent pub constitute? So, yes, I really liked The James. But equally, I liked the routine of clocking off work every Friday, going somewhere warm and comfortable and known, ordering a huge red wine and switching off/snarking and sniping and processing the week that was with my colleagues/friends.
And, really, more than anything, I liked having a local, a lovely little corner pub a ten minute stroll from where I lived. Therein, I believe, lies the real reason us English speakers do the local thing – in it, there is a sense of community, a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging is a need that is particularly heightened when you move somewhere. Establishing locals is one of the first things you try to do when you move – one’s locals are a part of the fabric of everyday life, like your favourite place to get coffee or pizza, buy fruit and veges, your favourite park to run in or read in, your favourite beach. It’s all part of creating a solid, known network and for me in Münster, the first city I lived in in this country, the first chapter of this whole adventure, The James kicked that off. My local, as they all do, as is their very function, made me feel like a local.