A country’s drinking culture is something you probably want to find out about before you go, rather than learning the hard way. Don't want to end up offending the locals in a place you barely know - or worse - languishing in a prison cell, now do we?
In most Continental countries, “drinks are there to be savoured, not smashed,” says the Secret Traveller, citing the examples of France, Italy and Spain. I recall a bank holiday in Dieppe that was case and point. Getting drunk does not endear you to the locals.
Do what they do – drink with your evening meal, pace yourself and enjoy the taste. When in Rome...
Our approach to drinking is somewhat less reserved. Rather than being frowned upon, drinking too much is pretty much encouraged. “In the UK the notion of enjoying yourself in the evening without alcohol is so unusual it can lead to you being called a freak (or at least miserable and antisocial),” one reader told the Guardian.
It's so darn cold, grey and miserable, it takes an inordinate amount of effort to do anything else with your evening. Thus, the London staple 'after work drinks' was born. Thursday became the new Friday. Wednesday became the new Thursday. The square mile is now fuelled by a 'drinks trolley'. The country is built on Wetherspoons.
Due to the large number of travellers now flocking to this region, the tolerance of excessive drinking has increased – largely due to the amount of money locals can make from drunk visitors. To ensure you stay safe, read these honest words from the extremely well-travelled Nomadic Matt.
Similarly to the UK, binge drinking is glorified in Australia. It's an expression of camaraderie, or that great Aussie word, mateship.
The country is making more of an effort than the UK to change this, though - at least, to my mind. If you want to get a bar job in Australia, you have to do Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) training. It's not the most challenging course, but it is informative about each state and territory's legal requirements, and forces you to consider the size of your drinks, even if only for a split second.
The UK, by contrast, celebrates the Queen's birthday with extended licensing.
The situation in the US is closer to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia than Europe, with the major problem being underage drinking. The legal age you can begin drinking is 21, but most people start younger and inevitably have a bit too much. I recall a weekend in Seattle, having arrived off the Greyhound from Vancouver with a friend. The two cities couldn't have been more different in terms of drinking culture. No sooner were we off the coach, it seemed we'd made friends with some local or another that was encouraging us to 'chug it'.
The Middle East
In the Muslim countries of the Middle East, drinking or offering alcohol can deeply offend the locals. Doing so is taken as a sign of disrespect – although it does depend on the generation of the individual and how strictly they take their religious beliefs.
But laws around alcohol in countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran are very strict, so check before you travel. Here is a list of countries where drinking alcohol is illegal and can land you in a lot of trouble.
Whatever the drinking culture of the country you’re in, remember - no one wants to be a 'Brit Abroad'.
Share your experiences of drinking around the world with me in the comments below!