The bar scene in Britain isn’t big. I’ve heard through popular culture that you can socialise and even find hookups in bars, but my experience in Britain has generally been that you go for a drink with people you already know, and only introduce yourself to strangers after having your inhibitions severely inhibited. It still feels reminiscent of Jane Austen’s day, when among the monied classes it was a major faux pas to meet a stranger without a third party mediating the introduction.
I’ve twice found myself talking to strangers in bars within two weeks of coming to Japan. Not because it’s easier to introduce oneself to strangers, although that also seems true, but because small independent bars seem to be more common here. One I visited was attached to a hostel I stayed in, and another was also run by its owner. I think that’s the difference between Japan and Britain. There are more bars in Japan which are small businesses, operated by their owners. This makes them more engaged with their regulars, allowing for camaraderie between patrons rather than just within preexisting social groups. There are also lots of very small bars, where the space makes it difficult not to engage with other patrons.
Enough sociology though. I’ve had a lot of fun visiting a few small bars while knowing few or no people there and attempting to communicate with people. Beyond the major tourist areas, outside whose bounds I now live, there are lots of people who speak very little English, and my google translate history grows every time I have a drink. Perhaps it’s because I’m foreigner, or perhaps because I’m sitting at the bar, but people try to talk to me and I try to talk back.
In the first case, I was invited by my host, who owned the bar, and was quickly included in the company.
In the second I was introduced to a regular by a friend of a friend, so I was not totally unconnected in either case.
Nonetheless, I’ve felt included in the group, despite the communication gap, by virtue of drinking in the same venue, while In Britain I’ve never found a bar or pub, especially in a city, where whole groups open up to strangers.