I was amused this morning to come across an article in the Daily Mail discussing how our British excess drinking habits appear to people from the US. The amusement was doubled by seeing a quote from my friend and ex-drinking partner in New York, Robert Kelsey – yes, he of book writing fame. The article can be summed up pretty succinctly in that we, as Brits, not only like our booze but actually need it to function as the witty, urbane folk that the rest of the world see us as. Alcohol in all its forms acts as a necessary launching pad to having a good time, impressing the opposite sex and finding a life partner – dictated perhaps by whether they have the same capacity for alcohol as ourselves, or maybe just enough propriety to not mention our drunken indisgressions once we sober up.
The whole world of British drunkenness has now been re-presented to me on my return from the US. As a Brit abroad it used to amaze me that our American friends would generally limit themselves to two beers a night, with rare exceptions. Now I have US friends who can, and do, imbibe to relative excess and handle it very well indeed, so I know that stereotype doesn’t hold true for everyone. The different does seem to be how drunk New Yorkers act when compared to drunk Londoners, and driving across town at 10pm last night after a great game of five-a-side football was yet another eye opener. The pavements of Old Street were overflowing with people barely able to stand upright, and seemingly intent on committing suicide with every passing car. Groups of skinny, rat faced boys, dressed in sharp shirts with slicked down mousey brown hair, seemed intent on catching our eyes as we drove past in obvious need of causing a fight with any excuse. “What you lookin at? I’ll fuckin’ have ya!”.
Drunken Brits at our best achieve Oscar Wilde levels of eloquence and witty banter, at least in our own minds and those of our drunken friends. At our worse, we’re lying on pavements in our own vomit, clothes in various states of disarray, blood on our faces from the last fight and looking forward, when we regain some small portion of our alcohol ravaged brains, to a chance to recount our heroic exploits to our friends, most likely over a pint. As an ex-ex-pat all of this is at times something to be embraced, and at other times a great source of embarrassment. Why can’t we just have a few, quiet drinks without feeling the need after the second to carry on? Why can’t we learn to get drunk while retaining some level of class? Perhaps this is the great leveller of class, with everyone from royalty down being a complete drunken idiot at some time. The only difference is that one drinks Krug by the carriage-load, the others drink cheap, strong Stella by the shitload. Social excess drinking is surely the glue of our entire empire.