Today I've been mostly thinking about dating (David, if you're reading, don't worry, it's not me that's doing it).
A British friend has a date with a Russian, and looked into how to behave. Obviously, as I've mentioned before, the man pays for everything. And your date involves dinner as a matter of course. After that, they'll definitely walk/drive you home. So far so different to the UK. The worst part, though, was when we found out that he was likely to bring flowers - what on earth do you do with flowers in a restaurant? We worried about it for a while, but both consulted our colleagues, and it turns out that this is a common occurance, so Russian restaurants are well-prepared, and will give you a vase to put them in. Brilliant.
As we were talking about it, my colleagues naturally found it hilarious that I didn't know this stuff, so we talked about dating more broadly and what we did in the UK. I don't think I've EVER had a first date that didn't involve the pub, and everyone I mentioned this to seems to agree. I found this weird when I went to the US as well - not that it came up for me, but they all seem to do a designated date activity, like dinner or a movie. I find this idea frankly terrifying - it opens up a minefield of convention, like who pays, what restaurant you go to. Plus if you hate them you then have to sit through a whole meal with them. And since it's so obviously a date, some poor soul has to do the asking out. Nightmare. In the pub, you avoid all this - it avoids the paying issue, as you can buy rounds in boy-girl-boy order, and it's easier to run away early if it's going badly. Plus everyone needs some Dutch courage.
The funniest part though, was when I asked my colleague who had lived in the UK what she found odd about dating in the UK, and she replied that the hardest part was figuring out when she was being asked out. That puzzled me a bit, because it honestly hadn't occured to me that that could be an issue. In fact, thinking about it and bugging a few English friends about it over skype, we came to the conclusion that the ambiguity is the whole point of the pub date model. Going for a drink in the pub is such a normal activity that it doesn't have to seem like a date, so if it doesn't go well you can pretend you were just having a drink with a friend - easy!
But on the other hand, now that I actually think about occasions when it has been a problem, it's pretty hard to unravel if you *do* know the code - can't imagine what it's like if you don't! And if you don't know the person well enough or see them often enough to be able to find a way to ask them out for a drink without obviously asking them out for a drink, it's pretty hard to make it happen. Being able to ask someone out for dinner without that seeming uber-keen and scary does make it rather simpler. And being in an environment that doesn't revolve around getting drunk would also be handy for things like knowing if you actually fancy someone and actually get on with them.
Of course, I'm a socially awkward English person who needs a drink to talk to a stranger and finds the idea of a formal date frankly terrifying, so I like the pub, but I have to grudgingly concede that they do have a point. But either way, there's a whole different strategy underlying it, and it does reinforce my long-held view that without the pub the English would have died out a long time ago...