Tuesday, 28 June 2011

How to Outdrink the ENGLISH

England is where I made my bones (or stomach) as a drinker. And I'm glad I learnt the business here, because it's a challenging gazebo indeed.

The English are, as a rule, very competent drinkers, and they always make for tenacious rivals. Members of other populations will frequently give clues as to their own level of drinking ability via their appearance or manner of speech. The English are more subtle. If you find yourself in their country, it is normally very hard to tell whether the person standing in front of you will be unable to recruit himself past the sixth shot of gin, or whether he will take you willy-nilly to where darkness stammers against the edges of the light.

The English are proud of their tradition in beer production and consumption, and they have a right to be. While I hold the Germans in higher esteem, there's something to be said for the obstreperous British spirit of conservation, which has led them to preserve ancient flavours of beer intact as they were hundreds of years ago. Some of their ciders taste so rustic that, after drinking them, one feels like rolling in the mud with pigs. Also, the English can boast the best fruit-beer in the world - a beverage that puritans may scoff at, but fruit-flavouring is in effect a respectable art in itself.

Situated at the crossways between some of the greatest drinking countries in the world, England has developed a rich, diversified tradition of drinkers. Unlike the Germans, they cannot be defeated simply by the use of spirits. They are resilient with pretty much all types of solutions, and they're too wary to be lured into self-defeating combinations (presumably because they always lose at football, so they've developed a habit when it comes to drowning sorrows in drink...). Unlike the Americans, they won't just drink anything they find (unless they're already really really drunk, in which case, hell, I've seen people drinking absinthe out of jam jars...). Rather, they will pour their drinks carefully and in the right order, and no questions asked. They are smart drinkers and they normally have plenty of experience, so outwitting them strategically is always very difficult.

Ah, how we used to roll...

It seems very unlikely you'll outdrink the English purely based on stamina or strategy, and aspiring competitors are advised against challenging them until very confident. Thankfully there is hope, for a route towards efficient victory does exist against the English too.

It took me a while to figure this out, but the English are suckers for drinking games. The Penny, a practice which involves the surreptitious introduction of a penny into a comrade's pint strictly while the latter is holding it in his hands, allowed me to gain numerous victories back when I was still quite the lagger to the natives. Drinking variations of board games, like Cider-Whisky Scrabble, Vodka Risk and Absinthe Trivia (I DARE you!) are very time-consuming, but ultimately rewarding, and they open the door to new dimensions of strategy in terms of how to outdrink the rivals. Circulation drinking, a practice no less common in Germany, is a bit more advanced, but manageable (that being the types of games where you drink in turns, whether from the same pint or different ones). There's also the phantasmagoria of variants of 'Never Have I Ever.' The most popular one among us literary academics was Humiliation, where you mention a book you haven't read, and all those who've read it have to drink. Unlike the idiotic games they have in America, most of this stuff has serious historical roots and demands intelligence, culture and/or quick thinking for one to prevail. It's not just about bouncing a ping pong ball into a pint.

Team-play is helpful, if you intend to challenge the English. Take your mates and train without alcohol in several board games or social games, or even just in penny-ing each other with glasses of water. Once you've mastered the craft - and do make sure you've mastered it, before riding into battle - you'll just need a few weeks of outings to acquaint yourself with the English etiquette. You'll find that they take their games quite seriously and they have a true sense of honour, but they're also cautious, and they won't be drawn into playing if they feel they're being hunted. It will take some time to understand their code, but then you can use it very much to your advantage. I'm not saying it will be easy, but it will definitely give you a fighting chance, the more in proportion to how well you know your game.

An addendum in closing: oddly, English girls make for very poor drinkers. Barring the inevitable exception, mostly involving rather androgynous representatives of the gentle sex, girls in England start vomiting every time more than three glasses of wine are served. Growing up there made for an erratic experience, as half the times we went to the disco with a group, it ended with some girl being carried home like a lion-skin. I'm not sure how to account for this weakness; given the cultural milieu, one would expect them to be miles beyond girls from France or Spain, and on a par with those from America. Instead, they make for no more than tremulous fawns. Go figure.

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