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.’
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?