Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Aye, There's The Rub: Why I Don't Go To The Pub

But that's not true.  Because I do.  I once asked a California-based relation of mine (mind you, not blood related) whether or not he dined at a pub on a recent trip to London with his family.  "Oh no," he said, shaking his head vigorously.  "I wouldn't want to expose my children to ... that kind of ... environment," he said in a lower voice, as if describing a strip club.  I tried not to choke with laughter on my delicious barbeque chicken wing.  Environment?  As in the lazy, Sunday-afternoon, family and friends, work colleagues catching-up environment?  The carpeted floors, wood-panelled walls and Top 40 hits playing-in-the-background environment?  Didn't think so.  I mean, I doubt they were passing by some run-down Brixton/New Cross Gate joint (sorry Brixton and New Cross dwellers ... I just don't think of those as general tourist attractions.  Besides, I happen to be a fan of a few pubs in Brixton and New Cross ... ok, namely one and I haven't been back since last year), but to not stop into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (where they were more likely to be near) for a pint and a Coke for the kids seemed to me a tragedy.

What my conservative dear relative probably didn't understand is that pubs in the UK are very different to bars in the US.  Plenty of my British friends recall spending time in pubs with their families for meals or drinks as young as 8 and I don't think twice when seeing little ones running around tables (but mostly on the weekends) at our local pubs.  Pubs play a role akin to that of cafes - whereas we Americans down caffeine like it's our job (I prefer chai or green tea even though I'm from the home of Starbucks - *shudders*), Brits tend to unwind, bitch, celebrate, cry, party, mourn and chat over a pint of beer or glass of wine.  Most pubs (except for the really sketchy ones that have boarded up windows or make you nervous from the outside) have amazing character and uniqueness that make them worth visiting and most have delicious menus filled with homecooked meals or simple sandwiches.  One of my local favorites, The Elgin on Elgin Avenue, Maida Vale, even do a mean French toast with fresh fruit on Saturday mornings.  So far from being the evil, immoral brothel of horrors my relative was probably envisioning, pubs are actually enjoyable places to visit and frequent. 

But you won't find me in The Warrington (which is our local) very often.  That's because I don't drink.  Ok, ok, I do drink but not often and only very small amounts.  This is hard when you live in the UK.  "Is it because of religious or moral reasons?" a newly-introduced acquaintance asked, with a respectful but knowing look in her eye after I ordered my third Coke of the evening.  I burst out laughing.  "Err ... no."  Although, I did resist the temptation of putting on my most solemn voice and launching into a 30-minute tirade on the evils of alcohol on society and why anyone who drank was damned to eternal hell,  but since I wanted to keep this new "friend", I didn't.  It's more of the fact that I'm allergic to alcohol and will be drunk and hungover in the span of 20 minutes (or whenever I've finished the neck of a bottle, whichever is the sooner).  The only reason why I wasn't on the floor in The Warrington two nights ago after my half-pint of shandy was because the barman took one look at me and filled 80% of my glass with Sprite and only the remaining 20% with lager, leaving me comfortably warm, rather than sloppily drunk.

My friends find this aspect of me hilarious, since none of them have a problem holding their liquor.  "Ok, ok, so, Jaime," someone always starts out when we sit down at the pub.  "What would happen if you drank ..." and a string of examples come tumbling out.  Half a pint of lager.  An entire mojito.  A mojito spread over the span of an hour.  A mojito downed in 10 minutes.  A glass of wine.  Two sips of wine.  Red wine.  White wine.  Sweet wine.  The possibilities are endless and after a while, I'm tired of their cruel game.  "I always said she was a cheap date," says John, patting my shoulder affectionately while I glare at him.  "Going out for drinks with her is like, buy one get one free!" he chortles as his friends guffaw.  It's true that John is, rather than my designated driver, my designated drink holder.  At various points in the evening, in order to make sure I don't get too sloshed (especially in new company, as everyone knows social events make one sip a little faster), he discreetly takes my glass away and "holds" it for me until the redness of my face has receded slightly and my voice returns to its normal volume rather than an obnoxious shriek.  Without this enforced control, I quickly fall into a downward spiral, tottering around and pointing fingers, going, "I rully, rully lushh yu.  Youknow?  I lushhh yu.  I don't tell yoush enoush, butsch I rully lushh yu."  When I described this scene to Jodi last week, she admitted it sounded "hideous" and it truly is. 

So please, if you visit England, have a pint in a pub for me.  I'll still go but will stick to the Coke, thanks.

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