Alcohol, to the bane of some people and the delight of others, is more than just a beverage; alcohol is a part of human culture. There are religions and certain cultures that ban consumption of alcohol, but there are other religions that have made it an integral part. However one looks at it, drinking is a part of culture worldwide, and London is no exception. In a quest to try new foods abroad, I sat down at a pub and ordered a pitcher of Pimm’s. Now I must admit that before travelling to London I had actually heard of Pimm’s and was interested in trying it. It was several weeks before I actually ordered it; habits are hard to break and the familiarity of beer is hard to stray away from. Finally, after a conversation with some locals, I decided to give it a try. These locals were appalled I had been in the country 3 weeks and yet to have a glass. As they put it, “They practically hand you a glass and say ‘Welcome to London’ as you get off the plane.” I was taken back by how adamant they were about trying it; it seemed Pimm’s is as much engrained into English culture as Budweiser is in American. So I ordered a pitcher, and was surprised by how good it was. The next day I ordered another, but was shocked by the bartender’s reaction. Noticing I was American, he asked if I had had it before I came to England, and how I enjoyed it. That didn’t seem like a question particularly out of the ordinary, but what he said after I replied I liked it: “I hate the stuff.” In two days I met two locals with two completely opposite opinions. Interesting.
Indeed I thought it was quite interesting to see such opposing views of Pimm’s. With the posters for it hanging everywhere I had assumed it was regarded similarly to Guinness in Ireland. But in my endless quest to understand religion and culture (whether they’re together or separate), I realized that pub culture and the drinks within are very similar to church and the Eucharist. The pub and the church are both gathering places, places for people to come together. Sometimes it’s just to socialize, but other times it’s to worship (although not necessarily in that order). Just as Christians have their Holy Trinity, pub goers have their sports teams. In the center of that trinity is God, and at the center of that sports team is the all-star. Once I made that comparison, the leap to comparing drinks to the Eucharist was relatively easy. They both represent a physical taking in of that culture. Many people would no doubt reject this comparison; it isn’t exactly the least controversial of topics, but who is to say what is or isn’t a religion? If we go off of religious scholars’ definitions, Emile Durkheim said, “Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things…” It seems to me that London’s pub culture fits that description perfectly. What’s more, just as religion sparks controversy, this culture of drinking polarizes people as evidenced by the opposing reactions to Pimm’s. Sure this abstract comparison might be hard to grasp, but new ways of thinking always are. As I mentioned in my previous post, England is officially a Christian state, but there is a large amount of diversity, and while many people might not adhere to commonly accepted religions, that doesn’t mean they are non-religious. Go to your local pub, order some Pimm’s, and strike up a conversation with anyone watching the match on TV. You’ll soon understand what this post is all about.