Saturday, November 5, 2016

"How come you don't drink?"

Of all the questions I've been asked during my adult life, the one about why I don't drink is either at or near the top (though 日本語を話せますか [Nihongo o hanasemasuka, or "Do you speak Japanese?"] is closing quickly). I'm not put off by it as, in general, it's asked more out of curiosity than malice. It does make me something of a odd duck -- not only am I among the 15 percent of American males who report never having consumed alcohol, but my not drinking flies in the face of the stereotype of an expat journalist. My people are commonly associated with heavy drinking and smoking, occasional drug use, and general irascibility, none behaviors in which I partake.

Part of what makes this whole thing awkward is that almost all the places I want to visit or live have alcohol-positive cultures. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Canada, the US -- places where drinking is not only socially accepted but encouraged as a way to break down inhibitions and generate camaraderie. What makes it more awkward is that I struggle to give a good answer as to why I don't drink. It's certainly not a religious objection, and neither is it a medical necessity (though at my size, avoiding empty calories is never a bad idea).

It really boils down to, "I don't wanna". I'd like my reasoning to be more high-minded than that, but I have to face facts. I know I have an addictive personality, I can't justify the extra spending on alcohol on my constrained budget, I already live in constant dread of committing social faux pas that will further alienate me from my Japanese surroundings, my schedule is already hectic enough without carving out time to patronize drinking establishments (drinking alone is apparently frowned upon), and going to such places usually makes me miserable as they're most often crowded, smoky, and noisy, all of which set me on edge and make me less-than-enjoyable company. In short, it's just not for me.

I don't judge people who do drink -- despite accusations to the contrary -- so long as they don't drink to a point where they hurt themselves and others. After all, I have plenty of vices of my own (procrastination, overeating, self-loathing, etc.). It's not as though I can throw stones. I just wish going about my life the way I think works best for me didn't create this kind of fundamental friction when interacting with others. Making friends as an adult is hard enough, let alone with the added degree of difficulty from relocating every other year.

It's not all bad, though. Every so often I see something like this and it makes me feel just a little bit better about my life choices.

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