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Is the alcohol message all wrong?
October 20, 2011 4:20 PM   Subscribe

It's not drinking alcohol that makes you behave like an ass, it's your culture

BBC piece written with particular reference to Britain's sorry state. But would seem to apply more widely to other 'ambivalent drinking cultures'.......
posted by Philosopher's Beard (132 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, "Oi, what you lookin' at?" and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, "Hey babe, fancy a shag?" and start groping each other.

I remember my high school health teacher telling us that the part of the brain alcohol effected first was the part that controlled inhibitions/self-control and that's why booze makes people loose. and I have no ambivalence whatsoever about alcohol.
posted by jonmc at 4:27 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's probably a balance of both bodily reactions and psychological/cultural issues. Maybe my brain is wired differently but I don't lose my mind when drinking at all, at least not till the extent that I can still stand up and talk to people. The whole fighting, regrettable sexual behavior, etc seems like something one would have wanted to do that is then convenient to do when less inhibited
posted by the mad poster! at 4:30 PM on October 20, 2011 [11 favorites]


All I know is, in university I drank a lot in the hope that it would make me promiscuous, but it never did.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:32 PM on October 20, 2011 [46 favorites]


being drunk will make me do the same things i do sober, but louder and clumsier and with more collateral damage. palmcorder_yajna can attest to this. britain's drinking culture is fucked but i'm not entirely sure if i am 100% on board with this article.
posted by beefetish at 4:34 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gladwell got there first.
posted by auto-correct at 4:36 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Someone who is an ass sober will often be more of an ass when drunk. Someone who is generally a swell person when sober may be an ass when drunk, but that is by no means guaranteed. Alcohol does act as a dis-inhibitor, but using it as an excuse for bad behaviour isn't convincing.

Culture plays a role in what behaviour seems inside or outside the pale, sure, but so do things like education, upbringing, age, 'self-control', and a lot else besides. Alcohol just (sometimes) pushes the sets of behaviours that a given culture already condones or tolerates that much further outside the envelope.

I am wary of anything that de-emphasizes personal responsibility for one's own behaviour, sober, drunk, high or otherwise.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:37 PM on October 20, 2011


but alcohol IS my culture
posted by pyramid termite at 4:38 PM on October 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


People reacted badly when given non-alcoholic placebo drinks? How very unexpected.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:39 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've kinda thought there was something a bit strange going on with this for a while. I used to work with a guy that was a total asshole when he drank. Like curse you out, punch you in the face asshole. I saw him kicked out of more bars than I can count. I noticed that he would get loud after just one or two drinks, everyone was pretty much sober but this guy is drunk. His boss decides he has had enough of this guy being an embarrassment every time we go out, so he gives him two real drinks, then starts feeding him mocktails. Dude still gets shitty, and now it is even worse. To this day I am not sure if the guys was never ever really drunk at all and was just acting like an ass, or really thought he he was drunk or something
posted by Ad hominem at 4:40 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I went to university in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which basically just a whole city of nothing but twentysomethings and pubs, which one might think is a perfect setup for rampant hooliganism.

But, somehow, nope.

Of course, there was also pot. Lots and lots and lots of it.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:42 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't get anti-social when I drink. I get very very very pro-social.
*stumbles, trips over thin air while running forward to hug you vigorously and explain my new idea about multiverse planking*
posted by naju at 4:43 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's not the alcohol as such, it's that with all those pints about, one's bound to get spilled so of course it has to kick off.
posted by Abiezer at 4:44 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


To this day I am not sure if the guys was never ever really drunk at all and was just acting like an ass, or really thought he he was drunk or something

I've known people like that. I think for some people just holding a drink (or what they think is an alcoholic drink) lets them trip the "oh boy, I get to act like an asshole!" switch in their brain. The rest of us need most of a 12 pack to get there, but the smell of alcohol is enough for them, thanks to years of Pavlovian conditioning.
posted by Forktine at 4:46 PM on October 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Anyone got the link for that gsallery of bars in Cardiff at closing time from a few years back?

It was the one with the public sexing and peeing and pooping and puking and trash everywhere.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:48 PM on October 20, 2011


People reacted badly when given non-alcoholic placebo drinks? How very unexpected.

Non-alcoholic placebos are very expensive too (see: Bacardi Breezer, Smirnoff Black, etc.). Madness!
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:49 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It was the one with the public sexing and peeing and pooping and puking and trash everywhere.

*silently places box of man-sized Kleenex on desk, awaits link*
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:50 PM on October 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Someone who is an ass sober will often be more of an ass when drunk.

I'm known in my circle of friends to be an ass sober, yet everyone thinks I'm more pleasant drunk. They actually ask why I don't get drunk more often. I'm starting to think I have a sobriety problem.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:50 PM on October 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


'Self-control' is a rather nebulous concept. We tend to use it to mean the ability to resist one's impulses, as though the desire to do something isn't just a motivation, but actually causes a person to do what they want, and must be resisted like a strong wind or an oppressive government. Merely sitting still surely isn't enough! You must first feel compelled to grope a girl, and then resist that urge.

I don't find it very surprising that, when people are told to resist an urge, they get the urge. "Don't think of an elephant."
posted by LogicalDash at 4:52 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thankfully I'm just a chatty drunk, I don't know how weepy or aggro drunks stand it, all that crying and fighting, it's like college all over again.
posted by The Whelk at 4:52 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Obviously, the experimental group in most of the related studies did not contain Tequila.
posted by Chuffy at 4:53 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a low physical tolerance for alcohol and always vomit on my shoes before doing anything embarrassing.
posted by klarck at 4:55 PM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


My alcohol message is almost always "Cin-cin", and then sometimes, "Death to your enemies".
posted by everichon at 4:57 PM on October 20, 2011


My friend Ewald's alcohol message was that if you do not make eye contact with whomever you are clinking glasses with, you will be deprived of sex, for a spell.
posted by everichon at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2011


Vomiting on your shoes isn't embarrassing?
posted by aubilenon at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2011




I expected the op-ed to cite other variables that could contribute to behaviors - such as duress, or other environmental factors, like dodging traffic to work/school and then to the bar. On an individual level, there can be a plethora of contributing factors for mood swings or deterioration. Mixing liquor with perscribed medication, or using drink to counter ennui or bereavement are factors not exclusive to any particular social class, age group or ethnicity.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2011


Anecdotally: when Mrs. Sauce and I were in Istanbul a couple years ago we stayed in a hotel in the Istiklal club district. People were certainly getting their drink on, they were sucking rakı down by the bottle, but I didn't see a single disorderly drunk on the street.

At home here in Seattle, not so much.
posted by Sauce Trough at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2011


FFFFFFOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUNNNNNND IIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTT!

*silently removes box of man-sized Kleenex from desk*
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


posted by Sauce Trough

Ahahah. Thanks for that.
posted by resurrexit at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2011


in vino veritas.
posted by wilful at 5:14 PM on October 20, 2011


I don't know about culture,but I find a good stiff drink often keeps me from burning the motherfucker to the ground. So in that sense, booze keeps me from butting heads with whatever culture I happen to be drinking with. YMMV.
posted by nola at 5:14 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


in vino veritas.

Age quod agis.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:14 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Drinking alcohol is probably the only part of Australian culture I whole wholeheartedly embrace.

I think I'm angrier sober.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:16 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


the theory I go for is that alcohol lets us forget our fear of death and our human nature and lets us be more animalistic
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:17 PM on October 20, 2011


I think there's probably something to the idea that if someone's a huge prick when they're drunk, there's shades of that when they're sober too if you look closely enough. Confirmed in my experience anyway.
posted by naju at 5:18 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


the theory I go for is that alcohol lets us forget our fear of death and our human nature and lets us be more animalistic

It certainly lets me wee on things I wouldn't normally wee on.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:20 PM on October 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Could this have anything to do with anglo and especially British culture being immensely emotionally repressed by expectations of constant politeness and the attendant, in some cases near constant passive aggression that replaces occasional honest outbursts of anger with a slow constant drip of stress and unpleasantness?

/not bitter
posted by crayz at 5:20 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Now that I know his behavior was based on choice and not on booze, my sophomore year college roommate and I are going to have words!
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:24 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I learned an important lesson last night: never see an Irish punk band sober
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:28 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


TFA is spot on. I have a rather different perspective on this; I'm pre-diabetic and since I made the mistake of taking the 3 (of12 prescribed) dexamethason tablets I can no longer control my blood sugar by diet alone. I need a drug assist. I found out by hilarious accident (if you consider a couple of attacks of gout hilarious) that that drug is alcohol. It signals the liver not to overproduce blood sugar overnight, and makes the difference between general health and a lot of health problems.

This is a fairly straightforward thing. As drugs go, compared to other diabetes medications, alcohol's side effects are moderate and far preferable to those of diabetes. Other diabetes drugs can't maintain the level of control I need to avoid some really unpleasant (GOUT! GOUT!) symptoms.

But the reactions I get from people when I describe what I consider a rather miraculous and beneficial discovery are, at best, strange. The lady whose website glommed me on to the whole pre-diabetes thing in the first place warned me that I was "paralyzing my liver." Well, what the fuck does Metformin do (if it works for you, which it doesn't for me) ?

I have never had a tendency to get angry or belligerent when drunk; I've only puked a few times in 25 years of drinking, and the most annoying result of drinking too much is nodding off and missing the last act of the movie. But then, I didn't start drinking as a teenager because it was the exciting and forbidden thing to do, I did so as an adult because my parents were teetotalers and it was my wife who introduced it to me as a relaxing diversion. It's now a relaxing diversion that's keeping me off of much more dangerous drugs. But many people can't get past the moral hysteria.
posted by localroger at 5:33 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Any explanation why every culture has obnoxious drunks?
posted by Metro Gnome at 5:34 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get about a lot.
posted by Abiezer at 5:35 PM on October 20, 2011 [12 favorites]


I will say US middle class culture is very werid about drink. It does really seem to be all or nothing. I don't get it.
posted by The Whelk at 5:42 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


FFFFFFOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUNNNNNND IIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTT!

Just once every year, Toby Maguire shaves his head, flies to Britain, and mounts a puts on a free showing of his one-man performance art piece "Rubbish Stack"
posted by nanojath at 5:43 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Evidnese the Brits should not drink be allowed to drink number one: Leeds.
posted by The Whelk at 5:44 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Any explanation why every culture has obnoxious drunks?

Tequila.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:06 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Amen! There are no fights outside bars in France, Germany, etc. Britain has them nightly. France has minorities who make asses of themselves outside bars, but they don't start fights. There are not afaik fights outside bars in most of the U.S. either, but apparently they fight lots around Boston.

I blame the early bar closing times in Boston and the U.K. for creating this bar fight culture. If you stager bar closing times, you avoid dumping everyone out simultaneously. Any guys who habitually start fights inside the bar lose their bar privileges.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:07 PM on October 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am testing this theory right now. Preliminary conclusions: wine is delicious, although maybe not the bestest choice after sprints. Not great for hydration but does wonders for morale.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 6:10 PM on October 20, 2011


localroger: So, you're self medicating with alcohol, and it's working for you? Huh.

I just tend to feel really lubricated and loose when I'm drunk. It's like every surface of my mind, body and external world has been polished and oiled. So things flow a lot better but tend to be a bit slippery and wobbly.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:12 PM on October 20, 2011


If you find yourself at a liberal arts school with an international fetish you will find that drinking makes people think they're fluent in whatever foreign language they're worst in.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 6:14 PM on October 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


jeffburdges: "France has minorities who make asses of themselves outside bars"

tres bien monsieur! That was a racist remark (are you drunk? It wouldn't matter if you were, because that would be a poor excuse for saying a racist thing, now wouldn't it?). I'm sure that no actual french people make asses of themselves outside of bars...
posted by nikoniko at 6:31 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you find yourself at a liberal arts school with an international fetish you will find that drinking makes people think they're fluent in whatever foreign language they're worst in.

This effect is not limited to liberal arts schools.
posted by vidur at 6:32 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I lived in Japan for 10 years, and moved back to Canada a while ago. The biggest minor irritant for me is the Canadian approach to liquor distribution - only the government does it right, and private retailers are grudgingly tolerated (although they are forced to charge higher prices).

In Japan, there's beer at the convenience store, at the supermarket, in vending machines, wherever - it's awesome. You can get drunk and never worry about having a fight. If anything, Japanese folks become more expansive and friendly after a couple of drinks, and it's common for thousands of people to get smashed under blooming in cherry trees in spring.

Compare that to Vancouver, where alcohol basically trashed a city during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The toleration (and expectation) of loutish behaviour in Canada is one of the minor irritations of living here.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:33 PM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Compare that to Vancouver, where alcohol basically trashed a city during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The toleration (and expectation) of loutish behaviour in Canada is one of the minor irritations of living here.

Yep...every summer when I walk past the beaches along the seawall I think to myself "why shouldn't we be able to have a few beers on the beach on a gorgeous day like this?"

Then later, I walk home though the Granville Entertainment District and get reminded why not.
posted by Hoopo at 6:37 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The biggest minor irritant for me is the CanadianBC approach to liquor distribution

In JapanQuebec, there's beer at the convenience store, at the supermarket, in vending machines.

/sorry, standard "alcohol regulations vary between provinces" comment.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:38 PM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


You have to teach people how to behave and far too often the people who should've (parents your children need to learn drunken manners same as table manners!) didn't for whatever reason. I live in a college town and so I see people who've never been drunk before acting the way they think they should that first time. Hilarious in a "did you actually do that" sort of way.
posted by Peztopiary at 6:43 PM on October 20, 2011


Granville street makes me ashamed to be from Vancouver. It's probably a good thing (policing-wise) that the city zoning regulations forced all the nightclubs into one area, but the patrons are just terrible.
posted by thewalrus at 6:47 PM on October 20, 2011


It's probably a good thing (policing-wise) that the city zoning regulations forced all the nightclubs into one area, but the patrons are just terrible.

Or it could be a bad thing, with people thinking "FUCK YEAH WE'RE IN GRANVILLE LET'S GET PISSED AND WRECK SOME SHIT!@"
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:50 PM on October 20, 2011


jeffburdges: "France has minorities who make asses of themselves outside bars"

nikoniko: tres bien monsieur! That was a racist remark (are you drunk? It wouldn't matter if you were, because that would be a poor excuse for saying a racist thing, now wouldn't it?). I'm sure that no actual french people make asses of themselves outside of bars...

The way I understood this in the context of the sentence was minorities of people rather than racial or ethnic minorities. Of course, I suppose it would be up to jeffburdges to ultimately clarify the true meaning of the phrase.
posted by texano at 6:52 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


'cause, hey, that's the cultural expectation when you're on Granville.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:52 PM on October 20, 2011


If, as an experiment, one were to strike a drunk French or Italian man, would he any more likely to react with physical violence than when he is sober? Because while offensive aggression under the influence of alcohol may indeed be culturally determined, the defensive response is not necessarily the same. It would be illustrative to disentangle these.
posted by blargerz at 6:54 PM on October 20, 2011


As per auto-correct: The full Gladwell piece from the New Yorker
posted by DavidandConquer at 6:54 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seconding Japan as a wonderful place to get a drink. There's not a lot of the shame/fun is bad thing here, and alcohol is just a thing. It's available, as KokuRyu said, everywhere, and usually 24-7 (though the vending machines turn off at 11, mostly). People do drink to excess, but for the most part (like 99.99%) drunk Japanese people don't get aggressive, don't get out of control, or any of the rest of the baggage that goes with it. For the most part, people here seem to be pretty good-natured drunks*. With the drinking culture as relaxed as it is (here's the word that the article shows doesn't work elsewhere: nomi hodai, or all you can drink), you do get, unfortunately, a good deal of public vomiting, public urination, and drunk office workers sleeping on benches at train stations.

On the plus side, I can sit in a park on a nice day and have a beer. I can bring a cooler of beer to the beach and sit and drink. It's fantastic. Compared with, say, Hawaii, where at the end of a 2 hour booze cruise on a catamaran, the employees told us we had to finish our drinks on the boat, because it would be illegal to carry an open container across the 10 feet of beach from the boat to the hotel.

* Seriously, the number of people who are more willing to try to talk to a 'scary gaijin' like myself grows with every drink. I've met some fascinating people who would never have tried talking to me sober for whatever reason, shyness, lack of confidence in their English, etc. Of course, it would be nice if alcohol didn't embolden the junior yakuza wannabes at the beach so much. Still, it's a pretty simple game. They want to show us how unafraid of us they are. They pose, they talk tough, they tell us stories of their badassery, and then they share their booze with us. Pretty much a win-win.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:00 PM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Granville street makes me ashamed to be from Vancouver. It's probably a good thing (policing-wise) that the city zoning regulations forced all the nightclubs into one area, but the patrons are just terrible.

Hold on....there's actual nightclubs in Vancouver now? I don't believe it.

And yeah, I blame early all-at-once bar closings too (to some extent anyway). What do you expect if you dump a bunch of drunks out in the streets all at once, most of whom are already peeved that they aren't still drinking and getting their dance on in the club? Bad bar fights always happen after last call. Back in my youth I made it a rule to get out of mildly edgy clubs just before last call to avoid any rampant hooliganism that might erupt.
posted by Go Banana at 7:05 PM on October 20, 2011


Evidnese the Brits should not drink be allowed to drink number one: Leeds.

I will have to check my history books, but I pretty sure we built that city when we were sober.
posted by Jehan at 7:09 PM on October 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Anyone got the link for that gsallery of bars in Cardiff at closing time from a few years back?

It was the one with the public sexing and peeing and pooping and puking and trash everywhere.


Is that the one everybody gets fussed about without realizing the fotos were taken over a period of four years?

Also, in most picture there isn't trash everywhere, but rather the bins are too small. Most people seem to have been thoughtful enough to attempt to bin their rubbish.

I'm not saying that England, Scotland or Wales don't have public drinking problems, but the Daily Mail isn't an unbiased source.
posted by Jehan at 7:15 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the article goes too far. The coffee = alcohol thing seems ridiculous. Obviously there is some physiological component to how alcohol effects our behavior.

Rather than arguing alcohol does not loosen you up, isn't the simpler explanation that it does make you release your inhibitions, but what you do without them is a convoluted cocktail of who you think you are, who you want to be, how your society thinks a man/woman should act, etc.?
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:21 PM on October 20, 2011


I don't think this accounts for blackout drunk behavior. I suspect those are the result of completely anesthetizing your frontal lobe. It's really pretty frightening how completely gone you can be and still move, or even interact with people if in a somewhat less than cogent fashion. Oddly, speaking from personal experience but not, sort of.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:33 PM on October 20, 2011


There is nothing biological underlying the behavior I noted, nikoniko, simply a social class or gang-ish thing. Did you not read anything else in my comment or the article? I assure you that any wannabe thugs who yell at you and your date on Pont des Arts were born and raised in France, whatever their lineage, well perhaps Britain if they're drunk tourists.

In comparison, I cannot remember seeing serious street harassment in Germany, and never fights. You'll hear guys breaking bottles, but that's some evolution of throwing the wine classes into the fire, very non-threatenning.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:44 PM on October 20, 2011


Okay, okay, wait, wait.

I swear to you I'm a Good Guy. Not the negative connotation of the "PA Nice Guy" persona, but a real stand up member of my community.

I'm a terrible asshole when drunk. I'm every terrible stereotype of a drinker.

I swear to you that's not me.

I don't drink at all any more. Once, maybe twice a year and only for weddings or events of that nature. Otherwise I don't touch the stuff. Can't.
posted by unixrat at 8:15 PM on October 20, 2011


/sorry, standard "alcohol regulations vary between provinces" comment.

Having lived in BC, Ontario, Quebec, and Japan, and being a guy that likes to drink a lot, I will say for certain that Kokuryu and Gidorah know what they're talking about. Not only can you grab a beer (and shockingly decent food!) at 4:30am from the 7-11 on your way to the beach, but...you can open it and drink it while you walk and everyone's all smiles so long as you're not an obnoxious ass shouting and making a scene. As far as Canada goes, Quebec wins the boozy party contest for sure, but we got nothing on Japan.
posted by Hoopo at 8:26 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Poland they will sometimes get a little belligerent, but the main socially sanctioned feature of drunkenness is that it is OK to loudly sing while walking down the street at 3am.

In the Ukraine it is also completely normal and OK to be so blotto you cannot walk. Your comrades will carry you along as you do a crucifiction pose between them, your feet dragging helplessly behind. The crowd will tend to smile and laugh.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:13 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a terrible asshole when drunk. I'm every terrible stereotype of a drinker.

Anybody who's spent a fair amount of time around drinkers has to be aware of this basic dichotomy among drinkers, to the extent it makes me wonder if there is some sort of genetic or basic psychological component at work... Indeed on the contrary side I've known more than a couple pretty straightforward alcoholics who were such sweethearts drunk that it represented a genuine impediment to their recognizing the basic fact of their disorder. I think the idea that drunkenness just "reveals the true character" is too simplistic, and I think the same caveat applies to making too much of what it reveals about the national character.
posted by nanojath at 9:25 PM on October 20, 2011


I would make sure everyone knew that even a mere three cups (six "units") of coffee "can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour", and sexual promiscuity, thus instantly giving young people a powerful motive to binge-drink double espressos, and a perfect excuse to behave very badly after doing so.

A close friend of mine worked in Afghanistan for a number of years and I remember her telling me a story about young men there, and their "tea parties". She said that they would gather and seemingly get "drunk" on tea; becoming intoxicated, speaking excitedly, slurring their speech, dancing and singing and losing a lot of social inhibitions, becoming more physically and sexually aggressive. I proposed that the tea must have been spiked, but she insisted that it was just normal tea, and she had drunk it herself with no intoxicating effect.
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:38 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


They weren't smoking a bit of that funky stuff?
posted by Meatbomb at 9:49 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


That was my assumption; she insisted otherwise. Pure anecdote anyway, so whatever, but this article brought the story to mind.
posted by jet_manifesto at 9:54 PM on October 20, 2011




Typical Daily Mail lie; that's one of Britain's foremost b-boys getting ready to give it a few spins, as an appreciative crowd of street dance fans looks on.
posted by Abiezer at 10:19 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The more I hear about Japan and Japanese culture, the more I think I was born in the wrong country.

In the Ukraine it is also completely normal and OK to be so blotto you cannot walk. Your comrades will carry you along as you do a crucifiction pose between them, your feet dragging helplessly behind. The crowd will tend to smile and laugh.

And film you, and put it on YouTube for all to enjoy. Enjoy!
(That last link is comedy perfection.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:02 PM on October 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I always find it hilarious the way that people, when you point out to them that their received wisdom is complete hogwash, simply repeat it back at you as though you've made a simple mistake.
posted by pfh at 11:02 PM on October 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I forget not to kiss strange women when my blood is combustible.
posted by pracowity at 11:43 PM on October 20, 2011


That's it, break out that bottle of scotch we've been saving, and someone go get the metafilter ram.
posted by mannequito at 11:48 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the idea that drunkenness just "reveals the true character" is too simplistic

I can be an outrageous as while drunk. I do stupid things, I say stupid things, I'm way too loud. In short, I'm everything I make a conscious effort not to be when I'm sober. If you go with the 'drinking strips us of self-control impulses' idea, well, one of my sober impulses is to try to be less of a dick than I am. I'd luck to think I'm pretty successful, as most people seem to think of me as a pleasant enough guy. Still, booze lets out my inner asshole, and he's not my favorite person.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:50 PM on October 20, 2011


I think the idea that drunkenness just "reveals the true character" is too simplistic

My true character must be Rip Van Winkle.
posted by emeiji at 12:36 AM on October 21, 2011


I think the idea that drunkenness just "reveals the true character" is too simplistic

Yeah, it's wrong.

It's like saying a flat tire reveals the true character of a car. No, a flat tire gives you a broken car. You don't fix a flat tire but then say, "Yes, it works now, but this car is actually a shitty car that secretly tends not to go in a straight line, as we now know from having seen it with a flat tire."

Drunkenness reveals what you'd be like if you suffered a certain form of brain damage that impaired your ability to look back and think ahead, thus making you more animal than you normally are.
posted by pracowity at 12:39 AM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Like pfh, I'm pretty sure the article said that there were studies that conclusively proved that aggressiveness and lack of inhibition were cultural effects.
Yet comment after comment here begins with 'obviously alcohol has an effect'.
My personal experience makes me want to agree, but it is pretty intriguing that it is cultural not physiological.
posted by bystander at 1:00 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


My personal experience makes me want to agree, but it is pretty intriguing that it is cultural not physiological.
Well, the writer's an anthropologist, so of course she would say it's culturally determined behaviour. You have to scrutinize how she's constructing her argument, and it's actually rather more tenuous and question-begging than the argument make out. She sets up two ideal types: the "ambivalent" drinking culture, in which alcohol creates social problems, and the "integrated" culture, in which it supposedly doesn't. Then, having constructed her abstract binary, she assumes that she has accurately described reality. Rather than, say, simply replicating existing romantic stereotypes about "rational," overly cerebral Northern Europeans and "more in-tune with themselves and their environments" orientals. Which is really the problem with anthropology as a discipline: it's still wedded to this rather dodgy procedure of dividing the world into Occidentals and Orientals.

As far as I can see, this argument doesn't grapple with actual, lived experience at all. It refers to science that supposedly backs up its assertions, but not in any sustained or critical way, and finishes with a classic piece of over-determined, "culture-first" hand-waving: that you could effectively substitute coffee for alcohol if you simply slotted it into the right cultural matrix. Which of course blithely ignores the actual, physical differences between the way in which caffeine and ethanol affect the human body.

The whole thing bears about as much relationship to what actually goes on outside pubs in Cardiff as Margaret Mead's work did to the real culture of Samoa.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:53 AM on October 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's the whole 'Keep off the grass' thing. Warning people not to drink excessively just makes it seem all the more appealing. British drinking culture is a bit like British sex culture - most of us are doing it, but we have a little voice in our heads telling us that it's wrong.

One of the things I miss most about living in Germany is drinking beer in a park or sitting on the street somewhere. There's also something nice about watching a suit wearing businessman walking home on a summer's evening swigging a nice cool beer.
posted by neilb449 at 2:29 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sonny Jim

The anthropology only comes in later, to explain the differences in alcoholic behaviour between cultures.

The evidence that alcohol doesn't by itself cause the behaviours we associate with it is extensive and comes from several disciplines over several decades (as well as anecdotally for centuries). That this research says that the world actually works differently than it appears to the man in the Cardiff pub is hardly a good reason to reject it. That's science, after all.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 2:46 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article appears to be a load of balls.

Quote:

This basic fact has been proved time and again, not just in qualitative cross-cultural research, but also in carefully controlled scientific experiments - double-blind, placebos and all. To put it very simply, the experiments show that when people think they are drinking alcohol, they behave according to their cultural beliefs about the behavioural effects of alcohol.

Why are these beliefs their 'cultural beliefs', rather than their learned experience? People know from experience of doing it that when they drink to excess they act a certain way, hence the placebo leading to similar behaviour.

Personally, I think the difference between outcomes of continental and British/Australian drinking is the speed of the drinking and the strength of the alcohol. British people go out on a Friday/Saturday night and drink strong lager, wine and shots very quickly with no accompanying food in order to get drunk. They go from 0 to 60 very rapidly.

Therefore their behaviour when drunk reflects how much they've drunk and how quickly. It's not difficult to work out.
posted by Summer at 3:02 AM on October 21, 2011


So, it's not drinking alcohol that makes you behave like an ass, it's being an ass. That sounds about right.
posted by Grangousier at 3:06 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


As suggested in teh BBC comments, the origins of this article are a little circumspect: Kate Fox is a social anthropologist and director of the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC)

The SIRC http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Issues_Research_Centre The BMJ found that SIRC shared its leading staff and offices with a public relations firm called MCM Research, which asked on its website: "Do your PR initiatives sometimes look too much like PR initiatives?

MCM Research seems to have some direct connections with the drinks industry.
posted by mary8nne at 3:13 AM on October 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Like pfh, I'm pretty sure the article said that there were studies that conclusively proved that aggressiveness and lack of inhibition were cultural effects.

The article also admits that "alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly."

That's going to change the way you behave, and probably in predictable ways based on human biology, not on whether your parents were groovy warm-climate Italians or tight-assed frosty Norwegians.
posted by pracowity at 3:26 AM on October 21, 2011


I used to drink a lot but no longer drink anything. When I drank, and was at a party or in a bar, people thought I was nice and very funny. When I stopped, a number of people told me they liked me better when I was drinking!
posted by Postroad at 3:50 AM on October 21, 2011


MCM Research seems to have some direct connections with the drinks industry.

That is pretty sleazy. I wonder if the BBC knows.
posted by bystander at 4:00 AM on October 21, 2011


That this research says that the world actually works differently than it appears to the man in the Cardiff pub is hardly a good reason to reject it. That's science, after all.

It's also running very strongly counter to personal experience for most of us. Not that this trumps SCIENCE!, but it's rational to ask for a higher standard of evidence.

[Googles a bit]

"pharmacological effects of alcohol are important to explain the relationship between alcohol ingestion and aggression." (1990)

"No effects [on stress] attributable to alcohol expectation were found." (1980)

"The only significant determinant of aggression was the expectation factor" (1975)

The inebriated Ss were significantly more aggressive than the sober Ss." (1979)

Oh look, like everything to do with human behavior, it's complicated!
posted by alasdair at 4:05 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that, mary8nne. I got a whiff of industry shill from my read through, but didn't have time to do any kind of audit trail on the author and her connections. Having said that, it doesn't surprise me in the least.

These kind of pseudo-anthropological arguments in favour of the drinks industry have been floating around for at least a decade now. They're brought out in Anglophone countries whenever the government is considering (further) deregulation of the alcohol industry, always, it turns out, under the pressure of industry lobbying. I remember in New Zealand in the late '90s we were told that lowering the drinking age from 20 to 18 would bring in a wonderful, French-style cafe culture in which all our British-derived cultural hangups about drink would dissolve, and the problems it caused would go away. As though the social and health costs of alcohol were caused by its regulation, rather than its pervasiveness.

I wonder how much of the "science" she refers to is also drinks-industry-funded?
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:25 AM on October 21, 2011


I should also point out that, after the industry-funded libertarians succeeded in getting their legislation through, New Zealand didn't develop into an "integrated" drinking culture at all. Harmful drinking has been rising steadily, even as libertarian-style deregulation has preceded apace. Gee, could it be that alcohol-related harm is caused by, well, alcohol, rather than the nebulous effects of some abstract "taboo" culture? D'ya think?

It's interesting how those who tell us otherwise—that increasing pub opening hours, allowing alcohol to be sold anywhere, anytime; lowering the age it can be sold to minors, will somehow counter-intuitively reduce the harmful effects of alcohol—are exactly the same people who benefit financially from drowning us all in the stuff.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:38 AM on October 21, 2011


I remember in New Zealand in the late '90s we were told that lowering the drinking age from 20 to 18 would bring in a wonderful, French-style cafe culture in which all our British-derived cultural hangups about drink would dissolve, and the problems it caused would go away.
If I had a pint for every metropolitan idiot writing shallow articles ignoring all sorts of factors bemoaning our failure to be more like the French/Portugese/anyone in drinking habits, I could have a very drunken long weekend.
posted by Abiezer at 4:46 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


So where are we now on this? It's an article sponsored by the alcohol industry telling us that drinking large quantities of alcohol is not the cause of bad stuff, because look at the way these nice foreigners drink buckets of alcohol for breakfast without becoming drunky drunks?
posted by pracowity at 6:34 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pretty much, I think, pracowity. And hey, let's also ignore the fact that alcoholism and binge drinking are also huge problems in those nice foreign countries we pretend have "civilized" drinking cultures.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:50 AM on October 21, 2011


People were certainly getting their drink on, they were sucking rakı down by the bottle, but I didn't see a single disorderly drunk on the street.

So, they were drinking, but they weren't hitting the Sauce?
posted by eriko at 6:51 AM on October 21, 2011


It's absolutely true. Yobboes gonna yob; alcohol merely encourages them.

When I am in my cups I am a positively charming and humorous companion. And if anyone says otherwise I'll fucking well have the fuckers in the car park.
posted by Decani at 7:13 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kate Fox is also the author of a book titled Watching The English, which purports to describe the unwritten rules of behaviour in England. These range from things like pub queueing/round buying behaviour and rules describing talking to strangers (England, she argues, is a "negative politeness" culture, like Japan, where politeness is about leaving people alone) to how class is encoded in everything from nomenclature to bathroom reading material. (Class seems to be encoded in a lot of places in England, suggesting that the English have, or have had, the need to determine their class standing relative to each other for many social interactions.)
posted by acb at 7:17 AM on October 21, 2011


In counterpoint to the Northern-European/Mediterranean dichotomy, the Scandinavian countries (where alcohol is punitively taxed and people drink to get drunk, especially in the dark winter months) don't seem to have the sort of antisocial behaviour one sees in the Anglo-Saxon countries. I've seen drunkenness in Reykjavík on a Friday night, but it seemed like a more agreeable, less aggressive drunkenness than in any city centre in Britain. Perhaps that's a result of the difference between collective-minded Jante societies and the aggressive, competitive, Hobbesian individualism of the Anglo-Saxon world or something?
posted by acb at 7:27 AM on October 21, 2011


It certainly is a good idea to watch the English; turn your back for five seconds and we'll have you colonised and all your goods and chattels on a ship back to Blighty.
posted by Abiezer at 7:31 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Alcohol amplifies certain traits in people.
posted by amazingstill at 7:32 AM on October 21, 2011


acb just beat me to it but I wanted to point out that Kate Fox made a longer version of the argument posed in the OP article, in her book Watching the English published 2008. So she hardly stole Gladwell's theme from the New Yorker in 2010.
posted by pineapple at 7:47 AM on October 21, 2011


I don't see what's scientifically illegitimate about trying to separate the actual physiological effects of alcohol (like liver damage and alcoholism) from the mystical effects. No one is claiming that drinking lots of alcohol is good for you. The emphasis is on the effects of your drinking on other people.

And surely the alcohol industry has a reasonable interest in finding a way to sell their products in a way that doesn't leave the streets of Britain awash in blood and vomit every Friday and Saturday night? Seems like that would be a good thing for the rest of us too.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 8:01 AM on October 21, 2011


Philosopher's Beard: The anthropology only comes in later, to explain the differences in alcoholic behaviour between cultures.
No it doesn't. Anthropology provides all of the a priori assumptions Fox uses to interpret—or pretend to interpret—her data, such as it is. Without wanting to get all Stanley Fish on you, it's pretty clear that Fox reached her conclusions first, and then looked around for facts, or rather "facts," to bolster them. This is what a think-tank "thinker" does.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:07 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seems naive to imagine they wouldn't direct that research, or that any findings that couldn't be spun to their ends would be given equal prominence to positive reports, or see the light of day at all. Much rather have my science independent and public.
posted by Abiezer at 8:08 AM on October 21, 2011


And surely the alcohol industry has a reasonable interest in finding a way to sell their products in a way that doesn't leave the streets of Britain awash in blood and vomit every Friday and Saturday night? Seems like that would be a good thing for the rest of us too.
Why would they? They don't have to live in Luton, or Hull, or Aberystwyth. They don't have to live with (or even witness) the consequences of their "industry." All they're interested in is fostering the kind of lax regulatory environment which allows them to extract the maximum amount of money from the punters.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:12 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, yeah. In my long and varied career as imbiber, I have observed that sufficient drinks is enough to bring out the asshole in covert assholes. Assholes tend to support each-other in assholery, leading to crowds of dicks searching for further alcohol (or, barring that, anything else they can destroy.)

So, yeah, if they didn't drink they might not be assholes in the singular, but crowds of covert assholes can get out of hand even without alcohol.

But it helps.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:19 AM on October 21, 2011


Canadians - despite the fact that many are descended from Brits - don't have the same drinking culture. I don't know if people drink less, but people certainly don't appear as drunk on the streets. Public drunkeness is embarrassing to the drunk person - so even when you're sloshed you make an effort to appear not so much. Nor is there the same belligerence you get in Britain. I didn't like walking around gentile Cambridge on a Saturday night, but just after the bars closed on Halloween in Toronto (major party night), the likely quite sloshed crowds were jovial and cheery - even on an insanely crowded bus.

This isn't to just bash on the British - but to point out that culture does matter. We drink the same stuff - actually, our beer is substantially stronger - but we don't behave the same way.
posted by jb at 8:19 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the Canadian drinks industry is doing extremely well, with no blood and only very occassional vomit in the streets.
posted by jb at 8:21 AM on October 21, 2011


The big brewery chains also own public houses. They hike the rents to effectively evict the kind of landlords that made them somewhat community establishments where a different sort of social environment prevails, then you get gastropubs in the twee bits of the country that exclude a lot of the old clientele (lonely can of super lager in front of TV for you) or booze barn Babylon in anything like a town, which has led to the heightened sense of moral decline. They're not working in the interests of responsible drinking.
posted by Abiezer at 8:22 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Without wanting to get all Stanley Fish on you, it's pretty clear that Fox reached her conclusions first, and then looked around for facts, or rather "facts," to bolster them. This is what a think-tank "thinker" does.

Agreed. Isn't it a chicken and egg thing anyway, in re culture and alcohol? Any culture's "opinions" about alcohol (trusting those self-reported opinions of whatever sample size) are going to be formed by what alcohol actually does to people who use it in their culture.

Oh look, like everything to do with human behavior, it's complicated!

Yeah, this article could use a citation or five. Some bold and unsubstantiated claims.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:25 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In counterpoint to the Northern-European/Mediterranean dichotomy, the Scandinavian countries (where alcohol is punitively taxed and people drink to get drunk, especially in the dark winter months)

People drink to get drunk everywhere alcohol is available.

I'd bet these "differences" in opinions about alcohol between cultures are much less significant than the range of differences in beliefs about alcohol "within" those cultures.

Where's the d value on that shit?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:40 AM on October 21, 2011


damn. sorry. d value.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:41 AM on October 21, 2011


A citation or five, mrgrimm, and perhaps a full disclosure of whoever is paying for all this stuff. Nice list of alcohol industry clients, there. I'm sure that's totally unrelated to the "science" underlying Fox's article.

And, oh look, they produce reports on how concerns over obesity and unhealthy eating in the UK are just "media hype," while taking money from Cadbury Schweppes, Coca Cola, and Mars. What charming people.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:44 AM on October 21, 2011


I would love to see Obama drunk.
posted by stormpooper at 9:12 AM on October 21, 2011


or booze barn Babylon in anything like a town,

I know when I lived in Sheffield there was a huge problem with the sheer concentration of licensed venues. Most pubs or clubs which attracted a significant amount of custom were on West Street or Divison Street (though mostly the former). Many thousands of drinkers might be in an area just .25km2, and the density of drunkenness helps to both normalize it and aggravate its consequence.

Such a build up of large venues in one area is the responsibility of licensing authorities, who don't have the control or understanding to prevent it.
posted by Jehan at 9:13 AM on October 21, 2011


Oh, and more people should drink stout or porter. It slows down the speed you can consumer alcohol, and punishes you for drinking to excess.
posted by Jehan at 9:15 AM on October 21, 2011



Oh duh. Everyone knows that the Sorority Girl's mating call is: "I'm SO drunk!" Usually after consuming a half a beer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:40 AM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know when I lived in Sheffield there was a huge problem with the sheer concentration of licensed venues. Most pubs or clubs which attracted a significant amount of custom were on West Street or Divison Street (though mostly the former).

I live in Sheffield now and West Street's nothing compared to Wind Street in Swansea, which (when I lived there six or seven years ago) on a Saturday was as busy on the street as most pubs get inside.

One of the problems Sheffield has, though, is that it has a huge student population during term time a large proportion of the drinkers are young and dumb (to pretty much the same extent that I was when I was a student). Also, you get student drinking events like Carnage, where huge packs of students wander around town and are encouraged to drink stupid amounts, which leads to things like this. That's a really unhealthy attitude towards alcohol. (Just to be clear, the student population also brings a lot of positives to the city and plenty of students do drink sensibly).
posted by xchmp at 10:03 AM on October 21, 2011


I would love to see Obama drunk.

He'd have to be liquidized first, of course. Possibly blended with celery or something else healthy.
posted by Grangousier at 10:47 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I blame the early bar closing times in Boston and the U.K. for creating this bar fight culture.

I never thought about it, but I saw more bar fights (and just-outside-of-bar fights) during my year in California -- where the bars close at 1:30-2 -- than in my 15 years in always-open Las Vegas.

And I go to a lot more bars in Vegas.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:09 PM on October 21, 2011


Without wanting to get all Stanley Fish on you, it's pretty clear that Fox reached her conclusions first, and then looked around for facts, or rather "facts," to bolster them. This is what a think-tank "thinker" does.

Unlike the people on this thread, of course. Who would never look around for ad hominem facts to fit their previously existing conclusions......

If you don't like Kate Fox's background, look at Gladwell's piece. Or is he also an industry stool? Doesn't seem like he'd need the money.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 2:15 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brits believe that alcohol has magical powers - that it causes us to shed our inhibitions and become aggressive, promiscuous, disorderly and even violent.

That wasn't alcohol, it was me. Sorry Britain, I'll try to visit less often.
posted by Blue Meanie at 2:29 PM on October 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Gladwell definitely didn't get there first. I ran across the SIRC website seven or eight years ago while looking looking for information to counter some arguments being made about college binge drinking. Some of the research Gladwell mentions, in particular the 1950s New Haven study of Italian-Americans, and the 1969 MacAndrew and Edgerton book, I actually purchased online after seeing them cited in a SIRC paper published in 2000 (HTML, PDF). (And for what it's worth, those studies certainly weren't funded by MCM Research.)
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 3:35 PM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


British people go out on a Friday/Saturday night and drink strong lager, wine and shots very quickly with no accompanying food in order to get drunk. They go from 0 to 60 very rapidly.

Therefore their behaviour when drunk reflects how much they've drunk and how quickly. It's not difficult to work out.


That seems to be missing the point a little. Why do people in some countries do this, and people in other countries do not? It is an interesting question.
posted by reynir at 9:41 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and more people should drink stout or porter. It slows down the speed you can consumer alcohol, and punishes you for drinking to excess.

You could say the same thing about Cisco.

That seems to be missing the point a little. Why do people in some countries do this, and people in other countries do not? It is an interesting question.

I would like to see this "people in some countries do this, and people in other countries do not" demonstrated by some sort of research study, for the stuff in the Gladwell article didn't seem to show it.

I contend that variations about alcohol beliefs within each culture are far greater than variations between cultures. I have no proof either.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:26 AM on October 24, 2011


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