Of alcohol and wives who drink.

We recently came back from a conference-vacation in Hawaii. I had a rather interesting experience there that I’d like to share.

I’m a special-occasion drinker. Once every few months, during a nice dinner, I’ll have a glass of wine or a mixed drink. I was raised in a household that was strictly teetotaler for religious reasons. (My parents, while aware of my imbibing at some level, choose to ignore it.) The spouse was raised in an even stricter religious environment and does not drink at all. Because of his strong feelings about this issue, we don’t serve alcohol in our house.

This has caused quite a bit of consternation amongst our social circle. The expatriate Indian community has embraced alcohol with some enthusiasm, as evidenced by all the drunk desi men on international flights before they got rid of free drinks. Expat women, on the other hand, are allowed to drink, but only if their husbands drink. A woman who accepts a drink while her teetotaler husband looks on is an anomaly. It confuses people. The more evolved cope by making jokes and snide remarks.

I’ve gotten used to it, and mostly ignore/enjoy this effect. In Hawaii, I called an upscale new-age luau (five course vegetarian meal, no roast pig ceremony) to book a table. The person at the other end asked about dietary restrictions, and I recited my standard line for the spouse, ‘one meal with no onions, no garlic, no alcohol.’

There was a pause. ‘Is there a reason..are you pregnant?’

‘No. Its my husband who doesn’t drink.’

‘Oh. Okay.’

I put that down to my not clearly communicating the fact that the intended recipient of the restricted meal was my husband.

Then we went to the luau. Our muscular male server, dressed only in a sarong, ushered my husband towards the Mai tais, while officiously showing me where the ‘non-alcoholic fruit punch’ was. I corrected him. This happened again at the table, when I ordered a drink after my husband ordered his non-alcoholic one, and the server assumed mine was a virgin as well.

I started feeling unreasonable, and not because of the alcohol.

I’m not particularly enamored of alcohol. Beer is vile. Some wines and martinis taste good, but I don’t like how they make me feel (sleepy). They certainly don’t improve my wit.

The real reasons, I confess, I started drinking was because it was the only thing I could legally experiment with, and because of the glamor of it all- the books about wine-tasting, the cool looking frosted drinks with the umbrellas and the cherries, the subliminal visuals received over the years of people having fun times around a table, sharing food, wine, music and laughter. The idea that your palate could detect oak and cherries and rose hips and all that jazz in a sip.

But now I wonder if that’s a lie. Certainly, its possible to have a fun, laughter-filled, even glamorous evening without alcohol. I also wonder about those dinners I saw on TV- who drove home if everyone was drinking? Did they have to take a cab? Or did they drive, only slightly over the legal limit, with kids strapped in the backseat? Is it still romantic if just the man drinks, with the woman drinking non-alcoholic fruit punch so that she can drive him home?

I’ve considered not drinking at all. But the incredulous looks and the raised eyebrows every time I ask for one make it hard to give up. It’s a form of positive reinforcement that works. Can I rise above this conditioning? Should I?


About purplesque

Psychiatrist, cook, bookworm, photographer. Not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in snivel/grouse/bellyachin. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Of alcohol and wives who drink.

  1. Lurkertype says:

    I love alcohol. In moderation. Of course TV and movies oversimplify everything.

    My husband is a real lightweight, so he doesn’t drink as much as I do, so he’s my designated driver. Nobody thinks that’s odd. It was the same way with my parents, and if they were still alive, they’d be pushing 90.

    But then we’re white, so there’s no weird sexist rules applying to us. People either drink or don’t drink — maybe a woman’s pregnant, maybe a man’s a recovering alcoholic, maybe there’s some medicine they’re taking. Whatever.

    I’ve had fine times both sober and with a few under my belt, and I confess the ones with booze are just a little bit more fun and remembered more fondly. I’ve had wonderful days out tasting at the many local wineries, and picking which wine goes with which food. And I love fruity drinks.

    This is America. If you want a drink (either for the taste or to shock), have one. The others will have to get over themselves and their operant conditioning.

    Strike a blow for women’s rights — have that mai tai!

    • purplesque says:

      This is America.

      Which is why I was so surprised by what happened at the luau, lurkertype. Is Hawaiian culture different from mainland America? Or were the servers responding to me as an Indian woman? Whatever the reason, I ended up having that Mai tai and a Long Island iced tea. This marks the second occasion where I’ve had more than one drink in one setting.

      • Lurkertype says:

        I suspect, you being Indian, they were reacting the way that the majority of their Indian customers prefer. They’re undoubtedly night after night serving Hindu (or Muslim) customers, so they go with the average behavior they see. Probably safer to annoy the occasional Indian wife who does like a drink than risk offending those many (and their husbands) who have bought into this sexist behavior. Percentage-wise, it’s better for business. As the great writer Damon Runyon said “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

        Had you shown up with a Texas twang or Boston accent, they might have reacted otherwise. If you’d been at a pig luau, it wouldn’t have been a question.

        I’m glad you were able to educate them by having yummy beverages.

  2. leendadll says:

    It’s is no one’s business why anyone chooses not to drink. What if someone is a recovering alcoholic? Or allergic to booze? Or, like you guys, just plain chooses not to? Where does anyone get off asking WHY someone is not drinking?!? And why automatically assume it’s the woman? ARGH!

    And if you wanna drink… drink. Social guidelines are changed by the people who realize they’re ridiculous and don’t abide by them.

  3. jaklumen says:

    I have several reasons not to drink.

    One is religious dietary law. There are some that understand and respect that well enough.

    For those that do not, I have to explain that when I *did* drink (against reason #1), I became viciously unstable. I basically had to swear an oath to Cimmy I would not drink again.

    For those that don’t accept that, well, then they get to talk to her.

    I have never come up to the third reason. People stop at reason one or two.

    I second that it’s really not anyone’s business. I’d be in trouble if I gave anyone grief about drinking or smoking– because then, to be fair, they could give me grief about my little vices.

    • purplesque says:

      Its a wise approach, Jak.

      To generalize my experience in the US, my husband and I have found our American friends to be a lot more open minded and neutral about the whole issue compared to our Indian friends. Which is probably why the experience at the luau was so…odd.

  4. Vijay says:

    I drink. I have a few very good friends who don’t touch the stuff. They seem to have as much, if not more, fun as the ones who drink when we all go out together.
    I’m sure you remember Aziz Mian Qawwal’s lines, made immortal by Kishore Kumar / Bachchan in Sharaabi: नशा शराब में होता थो नाचती बोथल. (for the non-Hindi speakers, the quote means “If intoxication lay in the wine, the bottle would do a drunken dance.”)

    • purplesque says:

      Right as usual, Resident Voice of India.

      A seems to fit the profile of your teetotaler friends; as he says, he’s ‘disinhibited at baseline.’ Anyone who saw us on the way back from the luau would have assumed that he was the one who’d had one too many. ;o

  5. mizunogirl says:

    Reading this was hysterical to me! I stopped drinking alcohol years ago because I realized it was making me fat! In addition, I never want to be in a position to not drop everything and go if needed via vehicle.

    It is amazing how there is still quite a bit of pressure in the regular (Not just expatriate) community in the USA to “Have a drink” I admit that on particularly tough days I will often say, “I’m going to need a stiff one” though in actuality I never do. And then there is this assumption that if you aren’t drinking that you must be a “friend of BillW”

    Still the pressure is so great that when attending family functions I often allow myself to be served a glass of wine and then just dont drink it.
    I believe that people may feel somewhat guilty about their drinking and when they see somone just relaxing without it… and thus the pressure begins so they will not feel guilty about drinking “alone”

    In your case though it would be difficult to pinpoint which trait of your being made then all respond in such an unusual manner.

  6. Lakshmi says:

    Sexist, I know. I have the same experience, with, hold your breath there, COFFEE. When dude and I go to a coffee shop and we order a latte and a double shot espresso, the waiter always always always gives dude the espresso. Drives me ballistic.

    Oh well !

  7. In Australia we have a 0.05 alcohol level for drink driving and so there is always non drinking designated drivers at every social event (if not taking taxi, of course). I only ever drink one or two glasses, despite my jokes, for the very same reasons that you listed. My father was also an alcoholic.
    Mr FD’s experience has been that “lower levels” of society and rural areas still equate manhood with drinking, but more educated levels are quite comfortable with people not drinking or sitting on one drink. Society is gradually changing here.

    • purplesque says:

      Society is gradually changing here.

      Here as well, supposedly. Occasionally, though, I’ll hear something (Friend, sarcastically- ‘I bought this bottle of wine especially for purplesque’) that makes me want to hit someone.

      If I were drunk enough, maybe I would.

      • “Friends” who pressure are just looking for an excuse for themselves, I say! Or a companion drinker! It is like trying to match make everyone so that everyone is married – I think it is because misery likes company!

        (I think I am joking about the marriage…)

        • Lurkertype says:

          And the ones who are trying to keep you from drinking are looking for validation for their inability to lighten up and realize a glass of the stuff won’t send most people on the road to ruin. (Also, probably jealous and wish they could fight the paradigm!)

          Misery loves company isn’t true about marriage. It’s why people are always saying everyone should have kids, even when they’re covered in baby excretions and haven’t slept or eaten properly in months. THAT’s the misery part!

          (you can always get a divorce, but you’re stuck with children for at least 18 years… or 40 or 50 nowadays)

  8. Emmy says:

    Wow, the sexism I’m reading about here is pretty dismal. Of course I’m not surprised, though. If I wanted to defend the waiter (not sure why, but I will anyway) I’d say that lawsuits are at an all-time high and restaurants are very hyper about not serving something to a pregnant, sick or allergic customer. So they are bullied into collecting all the awkward information they can about someone lest some dumbell customer orders something that they should know will kill them or their unborn child.

    I quit drinking and smoking at the same time just for health reasons (although my alcoholic family continues to motivate me to stay away from the stuff) so I’m like you in that I have a rare drink and I sometimes enjoy it although it makes me sleepy most of the time. Personally I’m all for being a tea totaller and the confusion and shocked looks I get just confirm that our society is backwards and we should move away from norms as often as possible.

    • purplesque says:

      You’re right, of course.

      I used to be up in the arms about hubby’s puritanical approach (‘why play with something that could be dangerous, even theoretically, if you can avoid it’), but it seems to make more and more sense as time goes by.

  9. phantomxii says:

    To me, drinking is one of those activities that’s interesting to a degree, but largely overrated. My attitude toward it used to be puritanical. Then for a couple of years I drank relatively often. Now the drinks are extremely rare, but the puritanical attitude is gone. I just never was a very good hedonist. 😉

  10. Aussie Emjay says:

    I really enjoy the glass of wine I have when I get home from work – actually I have half a glass when I walk in the door and the other half with dinner (sometimes the glass is bigger than other times though!). It’s enough to be pleasurable and take the edge off for me. On weekends, especially if we have guests for dinner, I do indulge in 2 glasses – sometimes 3 🙂 For many years I was having babies and the sensible designated driver so I think I’ve earned my few LOL. We have quite a few friends, men & women, who do not drink and I don’t really think anything of it except to make sure I have alternatives to alcohol in the fridge.

    • purplesque says:

      I have learned quite a bit about wine and cheese from you, Emjay! Love your evolved approach to the whole idea, too. That’s how it should be, shouldn’t it? Simple, just something that gives you pleasure.

  11. daddysan says:

    Well written! Since you’re done experimenting with alcohol for its novelty (and I loved the honesty in your post), any favorites? Cocktails are often masked by sweet overtones to really mean anything special in terms of taste. Being a beer and scotch person myself, your post got me thinking: did I make beer unvile so I could fit in? The context was college and I had been severely mocked for ordering a Bacardi Breezer, my first foray into alcohol of any sort. I grew a pair and started drinking beer – the cheap shit they serve at Gokul in Mumbai (don’t go there). After a while it became tolerable.

    Was it worth it? I didn’t think so till I tried my first wheat beer. Maybe it was the sweltering heat and picturesque pub which added to the appeal of the sunshine in my glass (with a lime thrown in for good measure). IT WAS HEAVEN!

    After a few months of weissbeer fanboyism, I tried darker beers, hoppier beers, the works in earnest and found I could distinguish them by taste, choose the right foods to go with them (A BIG, GREASY BURGER AND FRIES!) and in general, love beer. Some folks do that with wine. I can’t, but I understand the sentiment.

    I drink because I enjoy it. Vodka and White Rum, for example, are vile. Their sole purpose being mood elevation and that too peters out in a couple hours. Scotch and single malts have different tastes and aromas and are for mellowing down (as compared to the pep of a cold beer). They are also an acquired taste like beer, but very addictive once you let good scotch get to work on you!

    And no, you don’t need alcohol to elevate your mood. Dancing and good conversation work fine with and without alcohol.

    The sexism you recounted in your post was part amusing and part frustrating. I’ll be sure to try out the alcoholic/non-alcoholic drink trick during my next restaurant visit.

    PS – Nice blog! Did you always have the link up on your Twitter page?

    • purplesque says:

      Hey..pleasure to see you here!

      My apologies for the ‘beer is vile’ comment; while I realize there are plenty that aren’t, I’d rather wait for that Europe trip to confirm that. My first encounter was similar to yours- college, Y2K, a friend’s brother bringing over a six pack of Haywards 5000 (maybe to teach us a lesson?) because we begged him. I had one sip and it made my toes curl with revulsion. Never has my body rejected something so thoroughly. I spent the rest of the night cooking eggs for my friends and watching them get drunk and VERY loudmouthed.

      The second one, in the US, my bro-in-law suggested adding tomato juice to whatever store brought stuff it was. Didn’t work.

      I haven’t tried enough hard liquor to have favorites. Imagine, if you will, a nice desi woman leaning back after a fancy restaurant dinner and demanding a brandy. 🙂 I’m saving that for a special occasion.

      But I will tell you about the two best drinks I ever had. The famous mint julep of the Greenbrier resort in WV- bourbon, simple syrup, muddled mint, ice. It wasn’t just the effect of the dining room- that was definitely the best drink I’ve ever had. (They make a nice peach martini too, from their own peaches.)

      On the other end would be the home made mulled Scotch I made for a friend over Christmas. It was freezing cold, and we boiled some water with cloves and cardamom and mixed it with the Johnnie Walker. It was quite enjoyable.

      The blog link has always been on Twitter- used to be Vox before it shut down.

      • Lurkertype says:

        The mint julep is indeed one of the finest drinks ever. I’ve never had a bad one anywhere, though some are better than others.

        I don’t drink most beer, it’s icky to me. I do enjoy a Guinness now and again. I abhor gin.

        • purplesque says:

          Guinness…That’s definitely next on the list. I’ll have to go to Ireland to drink it, though, won’t I? The President said so.

          Just once in your life, you must go to the Greenbrier and have a mint julep.

  12. aubrey says:

    I become extremely joyous when I’m drunk. I don’t get hungover the day after; I get the requisite headache before I get home. Anyway, I am extremely light-headed and have been known to get tanked on 1/2 a glass of Chardonnay. I never get carried away – even when accosted by Delightful Whiskey Sours – however: I can’t – taking meds prevents that.

    But there does come a time – for instance, it’s not even 3P here, and I do think a chilled glass of champagne would make the afternoon go MUCH smoother.

    Purple, what I’m trying to say is have a drink when you jolly well feel like it! If people can’t wrap their heads around the idea of a Lady Who Drinks, it’s their loss!

    • purplesque says:

      Joyous- so you are no different whether sober or drunk! Why am I not surprised?

      Now every time someone gives me the old fish-face when I ask for a drink, I will remember what you said. Thank you.

  13. stupid sexism. i love alcohol …probably more than my hubby does haha 🙂

  14. I’ve come to this party late, but I’m glad I came! I like your writing, and I’m glad I’m not alone in finding positive reinforcement in other people’s disapproval! I always think, “Well, now I have to _____, whether I was actually going to or not.” I don’t have the habit of choosing dangerous things, so I don’t understand the little things some people choose to pick at!

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