Global Pub Crawling: Drinking Customs around the World
The alcohol favorite tends to be representative of that country’s locally grown produce, such as vodka in Russia which is made with potatoes. Rice is used to make sake, which is Japan’s top alcoholic beverage, and in Mexico their agave is used in the making of tequila. Grains like barley, wheat and corn are distilled into whiskey in the U.S., and Jamaican sugarcane gets turned into rum. Grapes in France become wine, and beer is made everywhere that you can grow barley and hops.
Along with the popular drink in any area comes a set of customs that if not adhered to can lead to trouble for the offender. Violating their drinking customs can make you unpopular with the locals and can even lead to a barroom brawl. You can avoid that type of unpleasantness by learning about the drinking customs in your chosen travel destination before you buy the first round.
An English pub can be one of the friendliest places on earth, with lots of smiling faces and plenty of drinking companions. The Brits tend to spend a lot of their spare time in the pubs as they look for a good spot to escape the gloomy weather. They’ll watch a rugby match on the telly or throw a round of darts, all the while taking turns buying the next round of beer for their group. Don’t mistake their friendliness for weakness, however, because you can’t just accept free drinks without taking your turn at buying a round for everyone. Skipping your turn to buy a round could get you embroiled in a bar fight.
Oh, and don’t complain about the warm beer, at least not in the hearing of a Brit. Traditional English ale is served warm in order to savor the unique flavors, and the English feel that a beer served ice cold is not a beer worth drinking.
Many of the strict rules of etiquette in the Far East are centered upon respect for elders and extremely courteous behavior. Drinking customs in South Korea are representative of Eastern cultural courtesy, and failing to adhere to respectful behavior is met with scorn. You also will need to be careful trying to keep up with your Korean drinking buddies. Soju is a smooth but very strong rice liquor that can leave you nursing a major hangover the next day.
South Koreans like to knock back a kombei, which is “one shot” of soju, and then they like to follow it with another…and another… It is customary to show respect to the senior person at the table by pouring them the first shot. Most importantly, you never pour your own shot- that would be extremely rude. You pour for others, then they return the favor and pour for you.
Be very careful about your phraseology in Spain when you want to invite people to go out and join you for a drink. The term te invito doesn’t mean “I invite you” like you might think- it actually means “I’m buying”. You could end up footing the bill for the whole party when you were thinking you would all “go Dutch” and each person pay for their own drinks.
Rich and fruity sangria is a popular drink in Spain, but you will love the rum con limon. One thing you’ll notice right away when ordering a Spanish cocktail – the very generous portion of liquor that goes into your glass. So be careful of the incredibly delicious taste because those drinks are a lot stronger than you might think. And don’t think because it’s your birthday that you’ll get to drink for free. In Spain it is customary for the birthday guest of honor to buy drinks for everyone else.
Order a pint of beer down under and you can always expect your grog to be served ice cold in a frosty glass. Quite the opposite of English ale, a cold refreshing Aussie draft is meant to cool them down after a day in the blazing heat. It’s possible the weather has something to do with the English preference for warm beer, considering the normal damp and chilly weather in Great Britain.
What the Aussies and Brits have in common is the friendly custom of buying a round for the whole group, or buying a “shout” as it’s called in Australia. Everyone takes turns buying the shout, and make sure you keep up because slow drinkers cause a problem when it comes to holding back the group from placing the order for the next shout.
Here is a drinking custom that will rile the feminists: in a traditional South African beer-drinking ceremony women aren’t usually allowed to drink with the men. If they do, they have to wait their turn and let the men drink first. Even though it is common for the women to be the brewmistresses and make the bitter-tasting sorghum beer, the strict cultural roles of men and women in South Africa prevent equality in social drinking.
The men kneel or squat in a circle and pass around the pinkish-colored lager in a pot the size of a bucket. They take turns blowing away the foamy bubbles on top, taking a sip from the pot and then passing it along to the next person. If there’s any left then the woman gets to have a sip. Compliment the brewer by rubbing your tummy. If the sorghum brew isn’t to your liking, just pretend to take a sip because passing up the beer pot is considered rude.
Enjoying a drink in any bar in the world can be a pleasant experience during your travels. You should always try to respect the local drinking customs, but since having a good time is the goal for both you and the locals, you can usually get away with a few boozy blunders here and there. Just smile, raise your glass and learn how to say “Cheers” in whatever language fits.
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