Unravelling The Distinctly British Politics Of Drink-Shaming

Why aren’t we OK with someone just saying they want sparkling water?


by Hanna Hanra |
Published on

This is probably not the right feature to write with a stinking hangover. Or maybe it’s the perfect piece to write. I don't know because my eyes hurt and I want coffee, food, painkillers, a cuddle – anything to take away the weight from the back of my skull and the tired from under my eyes and make me feel like I did yesterday, before I drank three bottles of ‘an interesting South African blend’ after two pints of beer from a boutique brewery in someone’s armpit in Hackney.

If I had been allowed my own way, I would have had a ladylike half pint after work, and then sparkling water with dinner. But, being taken out for dinner in some latest greatest so-hot-I-was-served-roast-cucumber restaurant by some friends in the dining-out industry, I could not say no to the South African blend.

I’m a grown up. I work in an industry that’s pretty much dominated by blokes. I can tell them where to go, when needs be. I can whip out a witty retort or a withering look at the drop of a hat. I have will power. I stopped smoking like that clicks fingers. But can I say no to a glass of wine when what I really wanted was a bottle of Perrier and a straw? When under the judgemental gaze of my winelist-scouring friend, the answer is no, I can't.

I am, happily, not alone. Amelia, 28, who works in the beauty industry feels the pressure, too. ‘I’m not a massive drinker, at the best of times. I have to entertain clients as part of my job. If one of them wants to drink six cocktails, then I have to keep up. I can’t let them think that our company doesn’t endorse having a good time – even if it means I have to suffer the next day.’ Chloe, also 28, a teacher concurs. ‘If my friends and I are out, I have to keep up with them. Unfortunately for me, they are rugby players. I have to match them pint for pint, or I'll get mercilessly teased. Last time that happened I wound up being carried out of the bar on everyone’s shoulders until I’d drink a row of jaegerbombs.’

I would drink vodka and soda because I didn't want people to think I was a pussy for drinking beer

In my early twenties I enjoyed a drink. I mean, I really enjoyed a drink. I wasn’t searching for the answer at the bottom of the bottle, but if I was out – which was six nights of the week – I definitely never was without a drink in my hand. I would stand at the bar ordering a vodka tonic, while finishing the previous one off. Like chain smoking, but wetter, and more inclined to leave you passed out on the bus in Whipps Cross. I would drink vodka and soda because I didn’t want people to think I was a pussy for drinking beer. Or I would drink tequila shots because I didn’t want people to think I was a pussy for drinking vodka. I would drink everything on offer. ‘When I’m out drinking with my guy friends, I feel like I have to stick to beer,’ says Chloe. ‘If I ask for a white wine spritzer they won't order me one.’

Why is it so important to me that I am not judged - by someone I like no less, about what I drink?

I’m older now, but apparently no less wise. It's only natural to care what people think about you – I would be lying if I said I didn’t care. It’s why I go to work wearing shoes and not Totes Toasties, which would obviously be my footwear of choice. So why is it so important to me that I am not judged – by someone I like, no less – about what I drink? Adopts Carrie Bradshaw pose and looks into the camera What is it that I don’t want my drink choice to say about me?

We are taught, from an early age, that being boring is a negative thing to be. Who hasn’t, upon announcement that they weren’t drinking, been rebuffed with an eyeroll and a ‘Borrring’? Nobody wants to be a party pooper. Eleanor, 29, a journalist doesn’t drink. ‘I don’t give a shit if people think I’m boring. I mean, I'll have a drink or two, but I wouldn’t wind up brimming with tequila, tap dancing on the bar, at the end of the night.’ And do people think she's boring? ‘I don't care if they do. I know I'm not. I just don’t want to get that drunk.’ Is she a party pooper? ‘I certainly am not. But that said, I don’t wake up not knowing what happened the night before. I wake up clear headed and ready to go.’

My hangover’s really kicking in now and I wish I had some of Eleanor’s attitude towards valuing her health. And some of her resolve about not caring what people thought, because it really shouldn’t matter; my friend should not care if I didn’t want to join her in a second bottle of South African blended wine. But, really, what I wish I had the most, is a pair of Totes Toasties.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @hannahanra

Picture: Rory DCS

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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