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I used the word “squiffy” to describe the state of the woman I was talking to. Being in London, she didn’t even blink an eye -- it was one of those Friday night “after hours” nights and we were actually all well beyond “squiffy” and moving into downright drunk. But that’s the way they roll in London.
I live in a town that drinks. We drink a lot. I mean, if an alcoholic landed on my block on an average Tuesday they might say to my neighbors and me, “Um… yeah… well, I gotta get up in the morning…” But Londoners have taken the evening pint to a whole different level. What we think of as “enabling” they think of as “just being polite.”
We started with four of us. The sales guy got the first round -- they actually had something called a “Yakima Red” which was a passible red lager made with hops from Washington (I assume from the Cascades near the Yakima tribe) and malt from Denmark. 4.6% according to the tap, 4.0% on Beeradvocate.com, but alcohol content doesn’t matter as much as volume.
Four of us…. That means four rounds. It’s only polite. I got the fourth round, which meant I was picking up the tab for my pint that ticked the “half gallon” mark , which, honestly is probably the top of my comfortable drinking. I have to say it’s nice to be out with Brits because they drink a lot like Portlanders -- we don’t mean to go beyond that comfortable drinking limit, but it would be rude to head out when there is someone who might want another round.
Then another coworker showed up. It would only be polite to have another round to keep him company. It’s not his fault he had to work late, after all. “Whatch’a drinking?” he asks, naturally. So he bought round five -- which means I passed the half gallon mark without really thinking about it.
It gets a bit hazy after that… The orderly passing of the rounds from person to person fell by the wayside and the drinking turned into a competitive sport the way the tribes of the Northwest competed with potlatch, “I will bestow upon you this slightly toxic beverage as an honor upon you, but it is only an honor if you drink it. All of it.”
I knew I was in trouble when the shots of whiskey started showing up. As the token American it was only polite to have the Makers Mark, it being cultural and all that. The second shot just sort of showed up, so I’m not sure who I would offend by not drinking it, but I’m sure it would be someone. The fact it was accompanied by another Yakima Red was no one’s fault after all, I had been drinking them all night.
Then this woman who wasn’t part of our company slipped into the circle. Irish, moreso the more she drank. Again, it would have been rude to move on at that point, even if I did have to step away from the conversation for a moment to make sure that my peristaltic waves weren’t reversing.
Eventually the women refused enough rounds that the party started to break up. Thank God for women -- men would keep pushing each other into another round, but at some point the balance of being polite to the women balances out the politeness of keeping up with the other drinkers.
After all no one really wants to get drunk. Everyone is just being polite.