I recently invited a bunch of ABC radio listeners and regular contributors to the pub for lunch and a few drinks. It was a simple thank you for their ongoing support. I have never bought so many glasses of colas, orange juice and lemon, lime and bitters in my life! At least a third of the 60-odd people there were not drinking alcohol.
I became genuinely interested in why so many people are choosing to stay away from booze. Asking on the day seemed somewhat accusatory so I took the question to Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus. The responses have had me thinking about every glass of wine I’ve poured since.
First, there’s the taste. “Trimega”says he didn’t have his first drink until he was 20 “and then found I didn’t really like it”. Scott McGill “never liked the taste and never saw the point of investing the time acquiring a taste simply to fit in with society. So I never did”. Bruce Rawson says he drinks “very little and only very occasionally” because “I just don’t enjoy the taste”.
Then, there are those who don’t like the effect. Fiona Davy describes alcohol as “an expensive waste of money that just makes me queasy”; Catherine Yarham says “my brain prefers a sugar high to drunk high”; Brett Carey “got sick of feeling crook the next day!” and Iain Fogerty sums it up in one word: “Hangovers”.
As you would expect, some have a far more serious reason, usually based on experience, for saying no. James Simms worked as a Queensland Rail Transit Officer. “One memory that will always stay with me is having to help a young girl of around 15 out of a garden bed at a train station. My partner and I were there to get her cleaned up and slightly conscious and we arranged an ambulance. I couldn’t bring myself to ever get that out of control so I quit alcohol completely.”
Sally Piracha spent several years working for an alcohol distributor. “There were lots of team dinners and conferences and the company always paid for the alcohol. One of my colleagues ended up in a wheelchair after wrapping his car around a tree after a night out with the work social club.” Sally says she and her husband Rob are now very occasional drinkers. “Our unwritten rules are that we don’t drink alone and we don’t drink at home. And we’re both okay with that.”
So, how do non-drinkers feel about being invited to a social event at a pub? Paramedic Bob Hartley, who doesn’t drink because “my job is largely about treating drunk people and I don’t want to be one of them”, says he doesn’t mind going to pubs “provided they aren’t full of very drunk people. I do object to the extortionate cost of soft drinks there but I accept it”.
Sally Piracha says she avoids pubs. “Wellmeaning friends will try to encourage you to have ‘just one’ and the diet colas you’ve been enjoying all night will suddenly pack a punch – and you weren’t even consulted.” Rachel C doesn’t think much of the “drinking culture” there and prefers “alcoholfree good times”. She describes pubs as “interesting…but ‘bad’ interesting”.
All things considered, I still think the pub was the best place to get 60 people together and I would do it again. Vegetarians don’t stay away from restaurants that serve meat. Non-coffee-drinkers don’t boycott cafés. (That said, those places are safe and respect difference. No one gets abusive after eating one too many hamburgers and no one sneaks a shot of espresso into your hot chocolate when you’re not looking).
The key thing here – and this can be broadened to life in general – is to respect everyone’s individual choices and not impose yours on anyone else. And if you don’t want to drink alcohol, you should feel comfortable not drinking alcohol. The more relaxed we all become about some people choosing not to drink, the less alcohol-reliant we all will be as a society. And that has to be a good thing.
Finally, in response to my last column, Fran Wiltshire emails: “Spencer, I really enjoyed your article about numbers but don’t you think you need to go out and get a life?!” Thankfully, she adds: “Don’t stop though because I enjoy reading your articles!” Thanks for that Fran.