Diversity, Tradition and the British pint



A couple of years ago I noticed that the average pint in a British boozer was being served in a 500ml glass. I was surprised but, after doing the maths, I realised that 500ml is equal to a pint – near as damn it. A Euro directive means that a CE has to be stamped on pint glasses and the old Crown stamp seems to have disappeared though its use is not precluded.

Now it seems that British UKIP MEP, Bill Etheridge, wants to bring back the traditional crown stamp on pint glasses. The wave of globalisation over the past couple of decades brought with it many welcome trends, usually around liberalism of trade and efficiency but it also swept away much diversity which is ironic since diversity is key to the liberal lexicon.

I admit to liking diversity. The tradition of the English Inn was built upon travellers mingling with people they might not otherwise meet, having words with them, and being obliged to take stock of their opinions.

When in Cologne I drink the local Kölsch beer served nice and cold in tiny little 200ml glasses with a fresh one placed before you before you can say Alle Lander gute Menschen tragen. In Thailand I used to like that they serve me Coca-Cola poured over ice in a plastic bag with a straw and in Nigeria I chose the local Star lager despite the mind numbing headaches. In English boozers I used to like a pint of bitter served in a straight glass with a crown on the side and the eternal debate over whether the beer was off or not.

I also like tradition and convention. I like old red letter boxes. I like the midday quiet and slightly dank air of a pub as it opens before the mob arrive. I like the hanging baskets of flowers in summer and, after returning from the optimism and literalism of the United States, it’s nice to have an offhand and cynical allusion understood by people who share a common culture. I also used to like the pint of bitter served in a straight glass with a crown on the side and the eternal debate over whether the beer was off or not.

The imperial measure on the side of a glass is an odd symbol both of conformity and difference. It signifies very clearly that this is a standard glass conforming to norms but it also signifies difference from all those foreign standards.

We grow accustomed to necessities and regulations and they become part of our culture. Remember the hullabaloo around metrication in the UK? Nobody noticed but UK metrication ran out of steam some time in the 80s and we’re now stuck with petrol in litres and speed in miles per hour.

Of course none of this matters. Originally people thought that humanity needed to change to accommodate machines but modern computers can accept and present information in any damn fool system we devise so there is often no need to do enforce conformity in the name of efficiency.

Mr. Etheridge claims. that bringing back the old imperial mark will revive Britain’s glass making industry but I’m doubtfu. Glasses have been stamped with various symbols for decades. Over twenty years ago collected pint glasses from Cambridge Folk festival. In these days of globalisation and specialisation I imagine that manufacturers will engrave or stamp the glass with anything you ask for if they think it will get them a sale. Surely the French have some mammoth glassware factory in Paris equipped with a German programmable stamping machine churning out glasses for numerous nations, brands and events. 20,000 glasses stamped Munich Beer festival, 10,000 glasses stamped Property of London Transport, 5,000 glasses stamped USS Nimitz.

I miss the old crown like I miss open back buses and letters at a post restante but government should not legislate merely to reintroduce the ephemera of past legislation. If the British want crowns on their glasses then I’m sure suppliers will be pleased to oblige but Mr. Etheridge’s campaign is mere nostalgia and nationalism.