Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Drinking and Travel

Most nights started with a box of wine. They cost the equivalent of 50 cents down at the potraviny—the Czech version of a New York deli—and were the perfect pregame agents. My flatmates would cut a corner off the top and insert a straw, drinking it like a box of juice while they applied make up, swapped shoes, and tried on new dresses and shirts. When they eventually got to the club they would have a shot or six of becherovka or vodka, followed by several large pints of excellent beer. And this was their routine every night for four months.

I shared a floor in Nuslé, a far-flung neighborhood all the way out in Praha 7, with 7 other girls. On the floor bellow us was a room with 8 boys and above us the common area that housed three more girls. As a film student, I would observe my flatmates’ preparations for their nights out from my storyboards and script drafts. All the film students did because while we had daily 8 am classes, the rest of NYU in Prague was really there to party.

But despite the fact that my nights of going out to clubs and bars were limited to Tuesday nights—when they played 80’s music at this one club in Praha 1—, weekends, and the occasional trip to another country, beer was always present. A beer with lunch, a beer with dinner, a beer in the evening while brainstorming movie ideas—the culture demanded it. I fell in love with beer in the Czech Republic.

In Madrid, my drinking routine became more regular. My friends could always drink me under the table because partying to them just came more naturally. At least two of them were Russian. But every Tuesday and Thursday after play rehearsal we went for drinks with the theater professor, a skinny, Anthony Bourdain type, to a bar that already knew to have our table ready with the complementary tapas and seven beers. On the weekend, nights often ended at 5 am.

From my experience studying abroad and from most anecdotes I hear from travelers my age, drinking while traveling seems as necessary to the experience as getting lost in public transportation. When my ex, Robin, lost his debit card in Budapest he strategized his last bit of cash as follows: he bought a bottle of liquor and went out to make friends. It worked and he was housed by some Hungarian guys for a week before he was able to get a replacement card.

This probably wouldn’t be your experience in most Arab countries or certain parts of Asia. My friend Nick spent six months doing martial arts training in China where alcohol would’ve been a welcomed respite but also a distraction. When my classmate Nicole worked at an NGO in Cambodia her stories were about traditional dance rehearsal rather than nights out getting crossed eyed on liquor. The most extreme case was my friend Eissa, who visited his family in Libya where alcohol is illegal. But so many Western countries excel at alcohol and the Western stock of traveler—particularly Americans and Brits—seem at their least inhibited when not in their home-countries. Marc, a French man of the world, lived off bagels and peanut butter in New York but powered through several beers when we invited him out with us.

To what degree is drinking part of traveling for you? Would you miss it if you couldn’t drink while traveling? Are all my friends just alcoholics?

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  1. I think drinking is essential while traveling, amongst other things
    and I would totally miss it
    drinking leads to conversation and comedy
    and some of my friends are alcoholics

  2. Great post. Drinking and traveling is something I experienced daily while studying abroad in Italy. Basically that same scene you played out of your roommate in Prague when on in Florence nightly for me as well. For a lot of people, it does become the main activity, which is extremely sad because many days are wasted hungover when you could be out seeing the city. Interesting to think how in different parts of the world that wouldn't be the case. I enjoy a few drinks here and there on my travels, but in the end, I could live without it.

  3. Thanks for writing about this, Andrea. Alcohol also seems very default in all of the places I have traveled and lived, and that notion has always seemed curious to me. (I used to be a heavy drinker but have been enjoying sobriety for a few years.) I wonder if those who drink the way you described sometimes step back and look at the habit. It was insightful to hear you speak about your experiences.

    The story about Robin seems to say a lot. Alcohol - like food - is a huge bonding agent. It's like a social currency. I'm feeling inspired to search out travel stories from areas like Libya where alcohol is illegal. (Is there as much hushed booze smuggling as I've heard about?) What are social bonding experiences like there?

    Thanks again for sharing. Lots of food for thought.



  4. Just a wonderful post!!!!