My problem is that I don't drink.
Short of admitting you're a freelance ISIS recruitment agent, few things bring conversations to a quicker halt than three words: "I don't drink". I know, because I utter them with uncomfortable regularity.
Forget "I Love You". Nothing is guaranteed to induce awkward silence quite as much as the revelation that you are a smart and social 30-something, who just doesn't do scotch... or wine... or beer...
Especially when you can't justify your choice on religious grounds, health issues or the fact that you're knocked up and society considers it somewhat reckless to be with child and downing vodka shots.
The crickets are particularly pronounced given that I was raised in a country renowned for (nay, that prides itself on) drinking. From boozy backyard BBQ's to our former PM sculling a schooner in under six seconds, there is an unwritten understanding embedded in Aussie culture that the best way to have fun is with a little tipple. But I'm just not sold on the idea that you need to imbibe to enjoy yourself.
Isn't it about time we changed the conversation so that drinking is an individuals choice and not a cultural expectation?
I may not drink, but my life is far from dull. I've travelled to over 40 countries, written a cookbook, flukishly popped up as an extra in a Matt Damon movie and even came close to being arrested in the midst of some reckless football festivities. I've done it all without regularly relying on grog.
Sure, I've sipped Champagne under the Eiffel Tower and toasted with my late grandfather's Arak, but it was done with the same experimental enthusiasm as, say, eating guinea pig in Peru or watching Alex Rodriguez hit a home run at Yankee Stadium -- bucket-list curiosity not day-to-day regularity.
More typically, I'm not one for boozy lunches, a vino with dinner or Friday night tequila sunrises. I can easily go to a sporting event without being annoyed that the beer being served is light and not full strength and I am equally content with a slice of cake as I am a sugary cocktail.
And while I am completely comfortable with my choice (and it is a choice, not a definition of who I am), it does make certain situations hard to explain.
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Now, before you try to convince me that I have a drinking problem, let me beat you to the (non-spiked) punch and allay some of the well-meaning concerns that are often directed to me:
"Don't freak out, but I genuinely don't like the taste of alcohol."
"If I wanted to drink, I would, so please don't insist I have a sip, 'just to try'. Would you like it if I kept recommending you eat your greens during dinner? Didn't think so."
"I can handle a night on the Diet Coke, honestly."
"Buying rounds when you're filling up on San Pellegrino mineral water kind of sucks."
"Tiramisu would actually taste so much better as a plain chocolate variety."
"Getting buzzed has done absolutely nothing to improve my hopeless attempts at painful flirting."
"Fancy dinner and wine pairings are wasted on me. On the plus side I'm a ridiculously cheap date."
"I know the sommelier thinks I'm juvenile. I can handle this."
"Based on my ability to perform a choreographed routine to Desposito, I hope you can see that, yes, I'm having fun."
"I pass absolutely no judgment of your drinking choices -- I promise!"
But this brings me to my actual point. It's Dry July at the moment. People are 'sacrificing' their drinking to raise money for cancer patients. Isn't it about time we changed the conversation so that drinking is an individuals choice and not a cultural expectation?
Hello Sunday Morning -- a movement focused on creating a more conscious drinking culture -- has over 100,000 people accessing their support to change their relationship with alcohol and hear from like-minded people.
So is it all that crazy that "I don't drink"?
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