Life On The Road: The (Almost) Universal Constant

Not so many years ago I would not drink beer at all. I eventually started drinking Guinness and other similar dark beers. I came to enjoy them greatly, but would drink nothing else. Now that I am on the road traveling I will drink almost any beer. The reason? Beer seems to be a nearly universal constant.

Offering a beer is way to say “hello, come join us, lets be friends” in a surprisingly subtle way. It provides a reason to sit around and get to know each other with a fixed time limit in case things don’t seem to be working out (the length of time to drink a beer). It is an offer of hospitality that shows the interest is benign and friendly, instead of creepy and intrusive. It does not even require a single word of shared language to be effective.

Beer is also a common way to offer thanks to someone for an interesting story or some other bit of entertainment. It is refreshing and relaxing, usually appreciated in such a context. It shows appreciation in a way that is highly sincere without being awkward.

Beer is even a remarkably good way to calm down and help out the distressed when nothing else can be done. I’ve found myself on both sides of that situation.

I highly recommend everyone learn to drink beer even if it is not your drink of choice. One of the best tools I’ve found when among strangers, and a great way to just sit around and waste time. You don’t have to drink a lot, but a willingness to drink even a single beer goes a long way.

So what does one do if one cannot drink beer? I find myself in this position frequently because I refuse to drink anywhere close to riding a motorcycle. People are generally very understanding of such situations, but it requires a lot more care. Turn down a beer in the wrong way and it is very easy to come off as unfriendly or unappreciative. I’ve never run into a situation where someone would be insulted, but I can easily see it happening. The trick is in how you turn down the beer, but even if done perfectly you might still miss out on a new friend.

As you might guess, it is best if you cans speak at least a bit of the language. I have had good luck with phrases similar to “I wish I could, but ….” (followed by whatever legitimate excuse). If you do not speak the language this becomes very difficult yet can still be accomplished if you both have a good imagination and a bit of talent at charades. I’ve found that talent to be unusual so better if you just learn a few words of the language.

So far, everyone I’ve met is understanding of people with a specific reason not to drink when the situation arises. However, you might still miss out on a fun evening and a new friend even if they do understand! My best guess is that it is seen as turning down hospitality. While not insulting in this context, it is not accepting either. Perhaps someone with better people skills than I could get around this.

Some interesting side cases arise in all of this:

I will sometimes be offered wine or hard liquor (vodka, scotch, etc.) after an apology for not having beer available. I love these situations because the apology opens the way for turning down the drink with no consequences. But be careful, beer is likely to appear later!

I will sometimes be offered hard liquor without an offer of beer, usually vodka from a Russian or rum & coke from a traveler. Almost the same as being offered a beer.

Being offered to join someone, or a group, to go out for drinks is something that should never be turned down if at all possible because the offer may never come again. The good news here is you are usually in control of what you get and can more easily avoid alcohol.

I’ve found that “I do not like beer” is not a valid excuse for turning down the drink!

I am curious what will replace this in Muslim countries where people do not drink alcohol….

Beer. The (almost) universal constant. I highly recommend everyone learn to enjoy it!

3 comments to Life On The Road: The (Almost) Universal Constant

  • Elizabeth

    My guess is that Tea is going to be a common drink offering. Consider the book “3 cups of tea”… Coffee? Maybe… But especially in Asia, Tea may be a common ground. (So to speak, LOL!)

    It will be interesting to hear what you find out about other cultures as you go forward through the trip.

    Have a beer for me, bro!

    • Grant

      I think your guess is very accurate, Elizabeth. From what I’ve read, tea is a universal drink in the middle east, and it’s something of an art in how it’s presented. Unfortunately for me, I have the same health problems with caffeine as I do with alcohol, alas.

      But if an anecdote is any evidence, some missionaries from First Pres Boulder told us they were imprisoned for a time because they were evangelizing in Turkey… but the guards were extremely polite and even entered the cell to share tea with them while they were incarcerated. I think that’s enough evidence to support your guess. 🙂

  • Mom

    Beer has a really ancient history; Martin Luther’s ex-nun wife, Katherine, had a brewery in the 1500’s.

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