The classic American college experience is often painted as the embarkment of a pre-alcoholic’s journey toward the final local destination: Downtown. There is a popular mentality and myth that, in order to have a good time in a small town, your night automatically requires downing bottles on bottles.
Here’s where I’ll interrupt myself: This column is yours to receive and interpret. It’s not a pitch for the negative effects of alcohol, an attack on those who know the bars as their second home or an attempt to elicit a conviction to swear off the stuff (I’d be a hypocrite if that was the takeaway). This is, however, the perspective I garnered from my six-month, half-forced, half-chosen break from “the influence,” and then my immersion into pub life while studying in London for the following five months.
As you may have already guessed, part one of this journey begins a year ago, in beautiful Binghamton.
If you swear off drinking like I did, the first question you’ll be asked in a social party setting will notoriously be: “What are you drinking?” Courteous, concise, carefree. When the answer is “water,” the follow-up question becomes “What’s wrong?” And unless you make a joke about being a fish and it is what you need to survive (half true, yet a bit awkward for party talk), it’s tough to get past that first hurdle, which is bound to be revisited every time a fellow partygoer notices your translucently full Solo cup. This is the first of a few odd interactions throughout the night. And yes, it gets better. Unless people know why you’re not drinking, they will consider it unusual. This is mostly because drinking is preferably socially shared — people enjoy drinking with other people who are drinking because they are on the same wavelength. The second, and most memorable, kind of odd interaction is all the excitable encounters you’ll partake in with those who are loads more wasted than you. Everything will be notable, ridiculous and hilarious, like your best friend wishing her underpants a happy birthday, spotting a buddy riding down State Street on a bike or viewing legitimate fights to get on the blue bus.
As the sober person out, you may have a limited tolerance for drunk strangers and be chosen as DD. However, there are the added benefits of it being less likely that you will lose your valuables and a super likely chance of feeling awesome as soon as you wake up the next morning. If you want to enjoy a night out sober, you totally can. It honestly only takes willpower.
Part two: London Town, spring 2013. Quite the adjustment. The city at your fingertips, the pubs open during lunch and the gray sky’s ever-present chance of rain, similar to dear old Binghamton. Except this semester, I could drink.
During this adventure I met all kinds of people — foodie friends, study mates, as well as fellow rage buddies. Although drinking in the U.K. isn’t as big of a deal to students as it is in the American collegiate system (because they’ve legally been consuming a bit earlier than us), I met a few people who preferred staying in if they couldn’t drink because, in that case, going out seemed pointless. It didn’t matter who was going out or where they were going. Drinking was equivalent to fun, and if they couldn’t drink, they couldn’t have fun. This is not a fact confirmed by the transitive property; it is simply an attitude, subjective perhaps to lethargic traits or ideals of a young, crazy drunk culture that decides enjoyment. I’m here to say this is not the case.
It’s the feeling of going to a concert with adrenaline fueling your wild dance moves, and after grabbing some non-venue priced drinks. It’s the notion of being up for adventure because you’re with your friends. Whether you drink by choice or don’t partake because you either cannot or will not, the most important substance swimming through your veins is the attitude you bring out and about — that will determine what kind of time you have. So, why not make it a good one?