People who do not speak English well, or even people who do not want to speak a lot, will often resort to received gestures to indicate what they are after. Some of these are almost universally understood everywhere...

As an example, many people would know that the received gesture for "May I have the bill please" is to hold an imaginary pencil in the air and make a scribble.

Received gestures are also useful where the ambience is not conducive to speaking, like loud pubs and where there's a distance between the customer and the server. Some of these can be quite arcane and restricted to local knowledge. To order a 'London Pride' in a noisy pub for example, one can use their right hand to make a patting gesture over their heart. Another gesture that is received in the UK is to pretend one is pulling on a barrel tap; this seems to indicate that the customer wants an ale.

Question: what, if any, are the received gestures to differentiate between a pint and a half pint in the UK? Or if UK is too broad, then more specifically the region inside the London Orbital?

Note: 'received': adjective: conforming to the established language usage of educated native speakers ("Received standard English is sometimes called the King's English (British") from OneLook

  • 56
    I've probably drunk my own body weight of London Pride many times over and I've never seen or heard of that gesture!
    – Berwyn
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 12:30
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    I haven't heard it called the "Orbital" in years!
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 3:02
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    In regards to ordering a beer using a hand signal/gesture. In Belgium, you can order a general beer with a gesture like this: t4.ftcdn.net/jpg/00/71/34/85/… - There are some lesser known hand gestures that reference specific beer types (like a Devil hand sign to order a 'Duvel'). As a sidenote, maybe you could wear a T-shirt with the aforementioned image on it and use that as a method of translating your hand gesture to the bartender?
    – BlueCacti
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 9:44
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    Maybe the folks over at alcohol.stackexchange.com would be interested in this question?
    – MrWhite
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 16:01
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    Born and living in London; regular drinker of 'Pride'. Never seen any such hand gestures in any bar and doubt many bar staff would understand what patting your heart meant. "I love you!" perhaps? To get the beer you want you would need to point to the pump it's on. Good luck trying to order a bottled beer or a soft drink in this way. (Also the London Orbital Motorway is always and only referred to as the M25.) Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 6:08

2 Answers 2


I have spent most of my life living somewhere inside the M25 (and a good fraction of that inside various pubs) and I have to say that I've never heard of any of these gestures. I don't mean that you are certainly wrong but perhaps their use is indeed arcane.

Most ale drinkers (and I include myself in this) would need to specify exactly which ale they want, a generic ale would not be sufficient. So the pulling-back-on-an-imaginary-pump gesture does not sound useful, unless the barman already expects you to order a specific ale.

To indicate a drink in a noisy pub one simply pats the top of the pump from which one desires the glass to be filled.

If you want a half pint, you can make a gesture with your hands held flat, palm down, vertically one atop the other, separated the height of a small (half-pint) glass. Similarly for a pint, do the same but with the hands far apart, in exaggeration of the size of a pint glass. This signal of "beer size" seems to be understood world over [in my extensive field tests].

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    My own experience would concur. Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 13:29
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    Regarding both the indication of beer selection, and the hand gestures, that matches for me. I would say that making the "pulling" gesture normally does work - you get whatever the "standard" beer is - typically the bitter from the brewery that owns the pub.
    – CMaster
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 14:04
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    Quite simply, unlike most of their European counterparts, the British are not big gesticulators. "Pint o' Pride" or "Half of Pride" is about as terse as it gets. Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 15:20
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    I agree with the gesture - if more clarity is needed, then I would move my hands closer together to mean a half pint (ie make the gap smaller), and move them further apart to indicate a full pint (make the gap bigger), while mouthing "half" or "pint" respectively. But basically, this.
    – Edd
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 15:25
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    might be worth noting that a pint is the 'default' and as such often does not need to be communicated (at least in pubs, in festivals halves are much more common but then you generally dont get your glass from the bar anyway)
    – jk.
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 9:50

As per request of @Gayot Fow, I'll elaborate a bit on the hand signals/gestures I'm accustomed to in Belgium.

EDIT: I found a site that explained the gestures I explained + some more, so I'll copy these over to this answer. The original article can be found here.

Regular/General beer

Ordering a general beer
This gesture (balded hand, pointing pinkie) means you want to order a beer.
The type of beer you'll get depends on the 'normal' beer they serve at that bar, most commonly either Jupiler, Maes or Stella.


This sign, most commonly known amongst those who listen to metal music, is used to order a Duvel (~~> Devil). Some people tend to hold their hand before their head, as if their fingers were the devil's horns.

One meter of beer

1 meter of beerMeter bier
In many bars, you can order a so called 'meter of beer'. You have to imagine this as putting glasses of beer next to each other, so that the combined with of the glasses measures 1 meter. Most bars have some sort of wooden holder with pre-drilled holes to carry the glasses. Depending on how far apart they drilled the holes, 1 meter of beer contains around 10-15 glasses of beer.


This one is quite obvious. You point to the palm of your hand to order a Palm.

De Koninck

De KoninckBolleke Keuning
I didn't know about this one. But apparently in Antwerp, 'De Koninck' is called a 'Bolleke Keuning', referencing to the ball/spherical shape of the glass.


You basically pop your thumb from your fist as if you were popping the cork of a champagne bottle.


There's a whole list of gestures, but I can't seem to find the list back again. Most of these other gestures aren't very well known.
Apparently, touching your thumb with your index finger and then holding your middle finger in front of it, means you want to order a Kriek (~~> Cherry). It sort of looks like symbolizing a cherry with your fingers.

(    )


Asking for a lighter

In the Flemmish region of Belgium, more in the west, there's also a signal you could use to ask for a lighter.
You show 4 fingers, as if you would count to 4 using your fingers (index, middle, ring, pinkie).
In Dutch, the number four is "vier". This sounds the same as word for fire "vuur" in the (West-)Flemmish dialect.


If I ever see the full list of hand signals again, I'll try to remind myself to add it to this post.

  • 6
    Nice answer, but I would caution everyone about making hand gestures in a bar that might be misinterpreted :-/
    – Yojimbo
    Commented Aug 5, 2016 at 16:54
  • Here in the U.S., we call a "meter" of beer a "flight" instead. Not all bars serve them, however: typically you find them in bars attached to microbreweries, with each little beer being a sample of one beer they brew.
    – user25889
    Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 0:35
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    @Snowman A flight seems to be rather different to a meter. A flight is, as you say, essentially a sampler. You get small glasses of a few beers (usually three or four, in my limited experience) so that you can taste several different beers without having to get drunk. Given the sheer quantity of beer in a "meter", it seems to be more about getting drunk than anything else. I was disappointed to see that it wasn't the metric equivalent of a yard of ale. Commented Aug 6, 2016 at 12:36
  • "meter of beer" - if I heard the phrase with no explanation, I'd expect something slightly taller than a yard glass.
    – Random832
    Commented Aug 7, 2016 at 5:16
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    @DavidRicherby A meter of beer is very popular amongst students and groups going for a drink, as the price of it is often a bit lower than buying the beers one by one. A group with 5 people can have 2-3 beers and spend less on it. Ofcourse you always have those who buy it for themselves...
    – BlueCacti
    Commented Aug 8, 2016 at 8:49

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