men

An Investigation into Why Men Insist on Standing in Pubs

There's one thing you can guarantee when the pubs reopen – there will be groups of lads milling around and blocking your way to the bar.
06 April 2020, 12:14pm
Men standing in pubs

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

If you've ever stood up, sat down in or – as is more common these days – imagined being inside a pub, then you can probably picture that every man inside said pub is acting like a prat. This is because, in general, when you get men in groups and supply alcohol, they all turn into prats trying their best to-out prat each other. One of their favourite ways to do this is by getting in the way of everything. In this case, by standing up in a seated establishment.

Want to go to the bogs for a quick key? Climb through ten men all stood in a circle, each clutching an £8 pint of porter. Need to get another double gin and tonic? Sorry, all the men are standing in a line in front of the bar talking about sales, cast iron pans and referring to their place of work as "we".

This might sound like a gross generalisation, but when I approached a number of men about their preferred place in the pub, most of them chose standing up. Usually, along the length of the bar. Dan, 34, describes this spot as “a communal meeting place and where most of the regulars will go".

"You're guaranteed to know someone and a chat isn't usually tough to strike up. If there is no one you know at the bar you then have the backup of the bar staff to chat to,” he adds. “Essentially you're never lonely standing up in a pub.”

Considering a YouGov study four years ago found that a fifth of adult men don’t have a best friend, optimising the ability to socialise by standing up doesn’t sound so silly. Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing trainer, confirmed Dan’s stance on standing up.

“Men have a tendency to often communicate in a side by side frame when it comes to personal space, often creating lines and horseshoe groups of men socialising.” The environment of the pub, he says, complements the phenomenon. “Both traditional and modern drinking establishments have a tendency to magnify this, with environments designed to drink and stand.”

While Chambers asks me to consider the layout of urinals as another example of this behavioural trait, I can’t help but believe the architecture of the men’s toilet is constructed so that, at a base level, people don’t have to stare at each other while they piss. That said, many people find making eye contact awkward in general, so maybe standing up in a row is men's way of avoiding the intimacy and even the masculine power plays of each other’s gaze.

None of the men who stand in pubs blamed the patriarchy on the standing up phenomenon, but a few of them noted that it was more of a subconscious choice than a practical one. Martin, 38, didn’t like the finality of choosing a seat. “Sitting down feels too committed to one spot.” He elaborates: “When standing I feel more comfortable to leave when I want or move around.” Jack, 28, agrees: “I also feel like it’s easier to go to the toilet, the bar or outside for a cigarette if I’m stood up.”

Chambers compares these instincts to not sit, not make eye contact and bolt at a moment’s notice to animal instinct (ones, apparently, that women don’t have). “By standing, men have an elevated position. Think the meerkat on top of the hill, being able to spot what's going on in the distance. Rarely do animals sit down in this environment and make eye contact, as that could be construed as a challenge.”

“The dominant male in the group will often lay the framework for how the group communicates, and if he's standing, you will be standing too,” he continues. “And the blunt reality is, very few men will ever consider what this means for anybody else in the establishment, even if they get barged out of the way for blocking the bar.”

While the lads I interviewed didn’t touch on any of the points made by Chambers, his professional words were echoed by the female pub goers I interviewed for this investigation. Hannah, 26, touched upon similar traits in her analysis. “I think men love standing in pubs because it’s masculine. Men love showing off and peacocking, and sitting down would limit this. If all their mates are standing up, then they have to stand as well to boost their ego.”

As well as copying each other in their pub characteristics, the inability for men to understand that they’re getting in the bloody way is one mentioned by all the women interviewed. Jo, 32, surmised the groups thoughts with, “I think many men just don't worry about being a nuisance. They should.”

Still, Chambers is hopeful for the future of men’s self-awareness in pubs. He states there is a cultural shift underway, not just in the way men speak to each other (which would be vastly improved by putting their ass on a seat), but in the way they perceive a room. He anticipates that “as more men switch on to how their behaviour affects people around them, and society shifts what is defined as normal masculinity, there's much less need for them to stand up and scout the room for the next target, or stand there with their chest puffed out”.

When questioned, each lager lad had their own reason for standing up in the pub – whether it’s their ability to get to the bog, not letting themselves feel sleepy or a lack of seating that accommodates them – but none really wanted to consider that. Because this is a group activity, their individual reasoning doesn’t particularly apply. Based on Chambers’ professional input, comments from the women I interviewed, and some solid common sense, it seems to be that the blame for how annoying men are when they stand up in pubs falls down to the usual reason that men are annoying. And that’s on toxic masculinity, luv.

@GlNATONIC

Illustration by Christa Jarrold.