Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

What’s your booze culture?

It’s Friday, the day on which – Phuza Thursday notwithstanding – many South Africans start drinking in earnest and, if some statistics are to be believed, don’t sober up until Monday morning rolls around. I was reminded the other night of how uncomfortable I feel around drunk people. Now I’m not talking pleasantly tanked and chatty (personally I’m a big fan of pleasantly tanked and chatty when I’m not driving; I’m much less socially awkward on a glass of wine). I mean the staggering drunks, the ones who wander around like zombies or declare undying love to complete strangers at the Jolly Roger; the ones who end up puking into the gutter and featuring on websites like this one. Those kind of drunks.

I think it’s because I didn’t grow up in a household where there was much alcohol around, so I never witnessed this behaviour as a child. Though my father would have a can of Castle Lager when he got back from work, we seldom saw alcohol being consumed in any great quantities, and when we were at social gatherings, we were so transfixed by the possibility that we might get to taste Cream Soda that we didn’t notice what the adults imbibed.

Even now that I drink regularly (and compared to my almost teetotal siblings I’m a bit of a lush), I find real drunkenness deeply offputting, even unnerving. I don’t know how to handle it. My booze culture is one in which pleasantly tanked and chatty is fine, but anything more is utterly alien.

So I wonder about the impact of culture on others and their relationship with alcohol. Let’s face it, South Africans love their drink. We have a troubled history with alcohol – the dop system, alcohol-related violence, drunk driving – and attempts to address it have met with mixed success. Now the Western Cape is clamping down on drinking spots in residential areas and illegal shebeens and the Department of Health is preparing to have alcohol advertising banned.

Will any of this have a real impact on the number of staggering drunks? Look how the ban on cigarette advertising worked, some say, but it was a part of a broader shift, and legislation had a lot to do with it. The impact of alcohol abuse will never be reduced unless the entire culture around the consumption of alcohol is changed, and because it’s so ingrained, and so entwined with other factors – social, economic, psychological – it will be a tough one regardless of how many laws are passed.

What’s your booze culture? If you see a staggering drunk, do you feel uncomfortable, or have you seen so many in your time that you don’t bat an eyelid? And if you’re a parent, how are you shaping your children’s attitude to alcohol? It might be interesting to compare our different experiences.

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