with the alcohol reform bill being debated in parliament last week, and the law commission publishing its report earlier this year, i thought it might be a good time to talk about the drinking culture in nz.
i come to it from the perspective of someone who doesn't drink any alcohol at all. and someone who really doesn't like to be around people who have been drinking a lot. in fact, being near drunk people makes me feel really uncomfortable, mostly because of the lack of control & unpredictability of their behaviour. also, i hate the smell of beer & wine.
because of my own beliefs, i avoid going to pubs. i don't stay long at functions where i know significant amounts of alcohol will be consumed. and while i don't have a problem with doing this, it's not often realised that in our current culture, this can exclude me from a number of things.
i assert myself where i can. for example, at work they know that if they want me to be at any social function, then they better not hold it in a pub. i've had the "but you don't have to drink" line, which is about as useful as the "just take the ham out of the sandwich & eat it" line, but i've stuck to my principles on this one. i'm lucky enough to work in a place where they value my presence, so they work around this. often, we'll have dinner at a restaurant, then those who want to go to a pub will do so & i'll happily head off home, feeling that i've been able to participate on my own terms & also feeling valued as a person.
i've also been very firm with the NGO's where i volunteer. one in particular was in the habit of holding the AGM in a pub, to which i said "that's fine, but if you hold it in a pub, i won't be there". again, i've been lucky enough that they value my presence enough to hold AGMs elsewhere. but i was surprised to be thanked by two other board members who were also uncomfortable with going to a pub but didn't feel able to say anything about it.
and i can imagine that it might be the same with people who have drinking problems that they are trying to work their way through. i'm sure these people would find it equally uncomfortable, as would people of other faiths & some people of no particular faith.
which is not to say that i've never compromised. i did do the back benches thing, mostly because i thought the positives outweighed the negative - it was more important to get a message across than to fuss about the setting. but things like the "drinking liberally" meetings feel quite exclusionary to me, as do any number of occasions where people suggest going to the pub for something & i'm not in a position to assert myself, or i'm not in a crowd who would care even if i chose to assert myself.
i know there will be many people who'll say "suck it up, this our culture & you're in our country so you'll just have to adjust". to which i say "this is my country & i have as much right to determine what our culture will be & how it will develop as you do". but more than that, we know we have a problem with the drinking culture, we know the social & economic harm that is being caused by excess alcohol consumption. the reason we have strong (but often misguided) advertising campaigns in an attempt to change that culture is because we know it's destructive.
so i'm just throwing another factor in the mix. that factor being that when you organise your social or business events around drinking & alcohol, you are going to exclude some people. and it's not just us "touchy, fussy" muslim people, but many other types of people as well. a lot of these people won't be able to speak out against it, because the peer pressure is very strong & they find it hard to fight against. i find it easier because most people already think i'm weird or very different anyway, and i've gone past caring what other people think.