Saturday, August 13, 2011

Caribbean Context: Drinking in Bim

*Bim is a nickname for Barbados.

I don’t know what the drinking age is in Barbados.

That probably sounds crazy to Americans who went out on their 21st birthday and got sloshed because they were now allowed to do it legally. Strange that I know the legal drinking age in America, but not Barbados.

It’s not because I don’t drink. I’m generally reasonable about drinking. But admittedly alcohol doesn’t seem to have the same mental effects on me, so I can drink or not drink, it doesn’t matter.

The reason I don’t know what the drinking age is in the land I grew up in and am a citizen of is because no one's that bothered about it. In America, there’s all these weird associations with alcohol. It’s a taboo, and a privilege, and there’s a certain mystery and illicitness to it. There’s very little of that for us.

Mount Gay Rum (cutout + random guy)

In many households in Bim, alcohol is never off limits. I’ve been consuming alcohol from before I can remember. That’s not to say that parents put Mount Gay Rum (the oldest in the world by the way) in baby bottles. It’s just never restricted. At weddings and Christmas there is rum cake. It’s like fruit cake with a million times more raisins and a couple gallons of rum. Seriously, I’ve never heard of another cake that doesn’t go bad. The most that happens with run cake is that it dries out. And the solution for that? Douse it in more rum. (I’m so not kidding.)
Rum Cake- also known as Black Cake or Great Cake

Most parents will also let their kids have a sip of their beer/stout/wine. When I was a kid, my mother used to make Red Stripe floats and offer me a taste. I always refused because I despise milk. And shandy- which is fruit juice like lemonade or sorrel mixed with beer and has an alcohol content of 1-2%- is considered a soft drink by adults. And some parents will let their teen kids have shandy once in a while.
Sorrel plant

Sorrel Drink

Sometimes, alcoholism isn’t seen as a problem, especially where it doesn’t lead to another problem like domestic abuse, or drunk driving. People will say casually, “Oh he does get blind drunk every Fridee night,” just like they were talking about the fact that it rained 3 days in a row. So long as you aren’t a burden on society, no one really cares if you drink yourself into a stupor. That changes a little depending on your social rank. Middle management will have a harder time getting away with stuff like that.

Because drinking is neither restricted nor taboo, we don’t “wild out” the minute we tick over to being legal, nor do we have to get someone to buy us liquor for our illegal forays into the drinking world. And because we’re not going crazy about alcohol, there’s less need to police it. Many bars don’t ask for ID, especially outside of Bridgetown, although clubs will, but I think that has to do with things other than alcohol. In many "country" areas, you can literally send a 7-year old to the corner shop for a bottle of rum. (There is a law about how old you have to be to buy alcohol, but in small districts, the shopkeepers often know everyone in the neighbourhood. They know who that kids parents are. And you can bet your bottom dollar the kid won't touch it before they get home. Also this will only happen at the corner shop. I can't see it flying in a supermarket.)
Rum shop/corner shop. The rum shop functions like a bar, but people also hang out there in the day. And it also sells a few other supplies- some food, some cleaning supplies, the sort of stuff you might need but not feel like going all the way to asupermarket for. Except for the upscalest of the upscale neighbourhoods, there's at least one rum shop within a 10 minute walking distance of anywhere there's more than 2 houses.

I don’t think we have drinking games either. I learned all the drinking games I know in America and Japan (and on a trip to India with Americans and Brits). I guess you could say drinking is less of a destination, and more of a journey? In Barbados, the verb to drink is like a helping verb, it goes along with another verb. So you drink while watching Rally (car racing) or while liming and chatting with friends or in a fete slow-grinding on somebody or in the rum shop discussing politics like you’re a former Prime Minister. But you don’t ever just drink. And it never feels like the objective is the drinking.

It’s one of the most prevalent things in YA novels that will remind me that the story takes place somewhere else, because that’s just not us. We weren’t having parties with enough alcohol for a colony of mermaids to swim in. Heck we weren’t really even having parties (we had fetes or limes- but that’s another CC post for another day). So the drunken party when you have an empty house? Not likely. And that’s not to say we’re a bunch of goody-two-shoes. Teens will take advantage of being unsupervised in Bim, I just think that alcohol is a way less likely choice than all the other things they could be getting into.

P.S. A friend who used to own a bar in Barbados, tells me the drinking age is 18. I'm pretty sure I will forget that in a week. Like I said, people don't harp on it too much.


Dianne K. Salerni said...

I don't know what it is about us Americans. We are totally uptight about drinking. I don't know -- can we blame those Puritans on the Mayflower for it all? My state of Pennsylvania has many archaic laws about alcohol. Beer and wine cannot be sold in the same store. Chocolates with alcohol in them cannot be sold. It's a pain in the rear end.

Marsha Sigman said...

That is so cool. It's like a fact the more forbidden something is...the more we want to do it. I'm still that Sort of.

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