Friday, 18 January 2008

Understanding Gringoes - Drinking

For those Brazilians who have ever wondered why your Gringo friend is usually the drunkest person at a party full of locals, I’m going to try to offer an explanation, as I know I’m not the only one to experience this phenomenon. As well as the obvious cultural differences that we gringoes drink to embarrassing levels as a matter of course, there are other factors to take into account.

Important Factor #1 is that we generally like to have a drinking buddy along to accompany us and are never happier than finding some like-minded person to hide in the kitchen and share a bottle with at a party full of strangers. When you are the only gringo at a house party, this can be a little more difficult, especially when speaking Portuguese is still a work in progress.

Important Factor #2 is the amount of Brazilians who speak English better than we speak their language. At parties, it is very difficult to practice your Portuguese when everybody else wants to speak English. And wants to talk about English. Or your Portuguese. Nobody wants to spend a whole party talking to the gringo about languages so the novelty value understandably wears off rapidly, which is good as it can get a little wearing talking about the same subject all night, but bad because it means that eventually you have to try to join in the group talk.

Important Factor #3 is the amount Brazilians love to talk. I have stayed in pousadas around Brazil and heard breakfast conversations outside my room involving at least 4 people. When I leave the room, it has always been a shock to find only 4 people sat around a table, all of them talking. So to try to follow conversations, which needs heavy concentration at the best of times, is impossible at parties with loud music - like watching a tennis match played with 3 balls at once. This is when we resort to Defensive Drinking – constant sips because you can’t or don’t want to contribute to the conversation. It happens in other situations too – for example when stuck amongst in-laws with whom you don’t have much in common, or while waiting in a bar alone for your date to arrive.

Important Factor #4 is that we’re used to drinking from large glasses which we don’t share with anybody else. Then we can go at a casual pace, but sharing brings out our greed and we constantly bottle-watch. We finish our drinks first to ensure we get a full glass, and we fill up the other glasses at the same time. Then we go to the fridge to get a fresh bottle for more and also in order to give us something to do as we haven’t spoken for twenty minutes. Exactly the same process happens with caipirinha, and we will usually be the ones who end up in the kitchen making them, testing them, handing them around, making another, testing more before passing it on, making two, handing one around and drinking the other.

And so on. Don’t be too surprised if your gringo friend needs helping out of the door at the end of the night, and don’t be too hard on them for it. It’s only because they’re in need of a proper drinking buddy. And when they find one, things will be even worse, but at least along the way they learn to make fantastic caipirinhas.

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