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In Bogotá’s perpetual Corner Bar barrio, I explained how a working-class drinking culture permeates the neighbourhood I frequent the most in the Colombian capital. As somebody who grew up in rural Ireland, this is quite familiar to me.
One big difference, though, is that the barrio locals don’t appear to have the same complex, schizophrenic-like relationship with alcohol as many Irish have. The barrio boys just drink when they want to drink — which is regularly — without this deep guilt, that nagging question, ‘Am I overly reliant on booze?’
You see, both in Ireland and abroad, the notion of the heavy-drinking Irish is effectively accepted as fact. An Irishman — or woman, for that matter — who doesn’t drink to excess is an anomaly.
Now, as fairly well-travelled, I’ve found that all historically Christian nations have a drinking culture — some a little more so than others, of course. In fact, according to various studies, Ireland isn’t even in the top five globally when it comes to alcohol consumption per capita. Those eastern Europeans are our boozy betters.
Colombia, for the record, tends to be well down the list in such studies. It is, though, far from teetotaler territory.
Comparing myself to my barrio besties, it’s safe to assume my weekly consumption is now below the average.
In contrast, back in 2016, when I first started socialising in Santandercito, I had what I now view as a rather immature macho-drinking attitude i.e. I liked being the one downing the most. And, more often than not, I was.
The small problem is that this set a precedent. The barrio buddies came to expect me to drink copious amounts when I “went at it”.
This had less to do with the Irish-drinking reputation preceding me and more to do with that initial form.
Thus, my gradual change to not only trying but also enjoying drinking less when I socialise in such environments appears to have taken some acquaintances by surprise. Now, I may be overstating this somewhat. We tend to think that others are judging us on certain behaviours or whatever when in reality they’re not.
‘While many are generous, these are balanced out by numerous freeloaders. I’ve frequently spent double what I’ve actually drunk on nights out.’
There are also the vestiges of the Ireland I grew up in at play here. One would be viewed as a “lightweight” if he couldn’t keep the same drinking pace as “the lads”. All things considered, such silliness about boozing is less of a factor in Colombia (although, this isn’t to say it doesn’t exist at all — where there is bravado and booze it’s bound to be present to some degree).
The missing rounds
Nonetheless, the fact that I’ve been drinking less means some barrio buddies have been seeing less of me. Of course, one can still go out and not drink but I don’t consider the barrio tienda as a great place for that. I’m far more content to be in my panadería when I’m not drinking beer.
It must be noted here, it’s not that I’m in need of company when I go to such establishments. I’m often happier when left to my own thoughts.
Indeed, as regards the panadería, I usually go there to read and write, so having people talk to me is an annoyance. It’s just that I like the idea that I’m “out”, that there’s movement about me. Spending the majority of my time in the place in which I sleep is somewhat torturous for me. Working from “home” is not something I view as a positive.
Coming back to my overall reduction in alcohol consumption, alongside the health benefits, there’s also the financial factor. Not only am I spending slightly less on beer for me, but more significantly I’m also spending less on others.
This is due to the popular “round culture” in Colombia. And while there are many generous folk about, these are balanced out by numerous freeloaders. I’ve frequently spent double what I’ve actually drunk on days/nights out.
OK, inviting people to a tipple or two now and again is a nice gesture when one can afford it, but multiple times a month? It tends to put me in a bad mood. And when alcohol mixes with one’s bad mood, this often results in quite an explosive cocktail.
So my drinking less which results in spending less — at that moment of socialising anyway — is good for the bank balance, body and mind.
That being said, I’m not quite ready to abandon the beer standard completely. I am, however, loosening my ties to it.
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