Friday, 28 February 2014

Assisting the Police in Their Enquiries

Oh exciting Scottish life!

There's just been a policeman around, asking me about that episode with the drunken wifies on the bus two years ago. I gave him coffee, and so had a coffee myself, and thus am pretty wired now. Caffeine and righteous indignation are a lethal combination for your humble correspondent.

But never mind coffee. I wonder what Scotland would be like if everyone gave up booze or, at very least, intoxication. Or, at very least, if the women gave up intoxication. I realize that it would be unfair to expect women not to get drunk while putting up with the drunkenness of men, but that's how it used to be in the UK. Public female drunkenness is one of the biggest social changes to British life in fifty years.

I was in Canada for four weeks, and I did not see a single drunken woman. I attended parties. I met up with girlfriends. I went out on different nights to bars and a dance club. I was on the subway almost every day. And I did not see a single drunken woman. The most I drank on any given day was a pint and a half of local beer (that was on bar + Goth night), and mostly I did not drink at all because nobody else was drinking anything stronger than a cappuccino.

This is a total contrast to life in Scotland, where alcohol is part of almost every social gathering and my husband opens a bottle of wine every night. Last night I didn't feel like any dinner, but it suddenly struck me that I would like a glass of wine wine. We didn't have any, so after fruitlessly encouraging me to have red wine, B.A. poured me a small sherry. My mother would have poured me a small glass of milk.

I am pondering why it is people around me in Scotland (and I) drink so comparatively much when people around me in Canada (and I) drink so comparatively little. I used to mention the abstemiousness of my family to my Edinburgh friends, who now note that whenever my family members visit they down gin-and-tonics with great enthusiasm. My protests that any of my family members in Scotland are necessarily on holiday is greeted with derisive guffaws. However, I really do believe it is a case of my polite family doing in Scotland what the Scots do.

It could be the cold. In rural Quebec, it could be that cars are necessary for transportation, especially when it is 20 below zero. It could be the comparatively higher price on alcohol. It could be a different culture in politeness, in which daytime guests are asked if they would like water, tea or coffee, not a sherry, beer or gin. It could be that a Presbyterian attitude towards alcohol persists in Toronto in a way that it does not in Scotland, and that Quebeckers keep to Continental habits. Continental European women are not seen drunk in public. You will never see an Italian woman drunk in public, for example. Public drunkenness is considered very shameful, and so British tourists are getting a very bad reputation in places like Krakow.

It could be that Canadian provincial governments still keep a heavy hand on alcohol sales. You cannot buy hard liquor in a grocery store in Ontario. You must go to an LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) store. And "The Beer Store" is also strictly regulated, too, although not as much as when I was a child. (When I was a child, no customer was allowed to handle a box of beer in "Brewers' Retail" before he bought it. The beer-buying adult would have to go to a counter, and eventually the beer he ordered would come rattling down a conveyor belt.) Unless things have changed very much, the strongest stuff you can buy at the supermarket is Canadian wine, and not all supermarkets carry even that.

This is not to say I did not see any tipsy people in Canada. I talked to one tipsy man who had been filled with beer so he would not suspect he was being taken to his surprise birthday party. And at 10 AM on this past Sunday morning, there were crowds of jubilant and perhaps tipsy young men hooting and cheering in the streets of Toronto because Canada had just won the gold medal in men's Olympic hockey. (The bars had been allowed to open at 7 AM for the occasion of the men's Olympic hockey final. "On a Sunday!" sniffed my mother.)

Frankly, I have lived in Toronto almost my life, and hockey or no, the idea that non-alcoholic Torontonians would get pickled from 7 to 10 in the morning stretches credulity. And I couldn't say for certain that the hockey fans were tipsy because, you know, ice hockey is one of the few things that actually inspires Canadians to rush outside and bounce up and down and honk car horns and stand in front of streetcars. No alcohol needed.

"I thought you'd be legless," said a member of the Men's Schola over the phone the previous Friday night. (I had telephoned during B.A.'s bachelors' supper to remind them all that B.A. is not actually a bachelor.) "What with Canada winning the gold."

"Men or women?" I said.

"Both of them!" wailed the Scot.

The men hadn't won yet, so I was confused.

"What sport are you talking about?" I asked.


Oh, Scotland. I love you, but you do drink too much. And I'm sorry you lost at curling because because although apparently the Atlantic provinces love the game, Toronto couldn't give a hoot. (Naturally we'll accept a share in the gold medals.)

Update: In my outrage that one of the drunken women on the bus (both of whom saved everyone a lot of time and money by pleading guilty to disturbing the peace) called the Polish female ex-bouncer "You Jew", I completely forgot that one of the women had threatened me. I wish I had found this in time to tell the officer who questioned me this morning:

"And you," screamed one of the women, deciding to turn her ire on me as well. "Ah'll melt ye, ye fat cow with yoor fat hay-re and yoor fat....your fat heid... and ah'll remember ye. Ah'll see ye! Aye, ah will!" (July 1, 2011)

The CCTV does not pick up voices, so it does not pick up threats of bodily harm. Not that I thought the woman would be capable of remembering anything.


Sheila said...

Hm. That gets me pondering whether Americans drink a lot, or not. I really am too sheltered to know. I believe in general they do. And yet it's hard enough to buy alcohol here, and lots of people will definitely disapprove of you if you get drunk in public. No one I know ever does. And yet my family are considered rather Puritan among our friends because we can have the same bottle of whiskey in our cupboard for a year without remembering to drink it. It's just not our thing.

Julia said...

Australia is definitely a boozy country, and I'm not impressed. From how you're describing Edinburgh, it sounds rougher than Melbourne, but there are still heaps of pub brawls here, and emergency room presentations would be about 60% alcohol-related injuries.

I'm not against drinking, but if I were to never have a drink again in my life, I wouldn't really care. I just don't enjoy it that much.

PolishTraveler said...

From my experience living in big cities in the US, Poland and France, I think drunkenness (the public version) is a problem everywhere. In all of these countries I have seen drunk crowds of young people roaming the streets although I admit I was most shocked in the UK when I saw half-naked girls stumbling about on the underground in freezing mid-January at 10 PM. However, things such as 'botellons' (Spanish drinking in public areas that can include up to thousands of people) prove it's a European-wide problem.

And while British tourists do get a nasty rep in Poland for their booze-filled stag nights, I'm pretty sure it's mostly because they are loud and disrespectful towards historic buildings, passersby etc. Public drunkenness in Poland is again fairly common - in every neighborhood you have groups of middle-aged alcoholics congregating behind kiosks or sitting in front of a grocery story. They're are pretty much a standard part of the landscape.

My theory is that more people drink publicly in Europe (by which I mean outdoors) while in the US such things tend to be done at hom or in bars.

PolishTraveler said...

*grocery store
*at home

Sorry - my keyboard is starting to give out!

Aquinas' Goose said...

As an American living in a college town, it is not surprising to have students come to class still buzzed or hungover. Driving through the main thoroughfare to get to or from the college after about 8 pm runs the risk of mobs of drunks, after 10 pm it becomes a guarantee.

In my part of the country the Puritanical approach to alcohol leads to students who completely cut loose the moment they get away from their parents (assuming they haven't been sneaking illegal drinks in high school). Americans also tend to, from my perspective, have a very unhealthy approach to alcohol: during my elementary school years my school taught us that if you drank an alcoholic beverage once a night you were an alcoholic (at least this is what my 8-10-yr-old self interpreted from their lessons). You're also considered an alcoholic if you drink before 5pm and you're not at wedding (although in these here parts dry weddings are not uncommon).

I can't speak for the whole country, just for my little corner of it--and of course it's also not the rule even here, but it's the general feel and concept.

Seraphic said...

I'd suggest it was an anglosphere thing if it weren't for Russia, Poland and Germany.

Could it be that Mediterranean countries, with their healthy attitude towards wine, are the exception rather than the rule?