This is an edited version of a conversation I, a real ale-loving Brit, had with BuzzFeed colleagues and contributors around the world.
At what age do people generally start drinking? In Britain the legal age is 18, but most people get drunk for the first time in their early teens, in parks and at house parties.
Victor Stepanov, from Russia.
Victor Stepanov: In Russia it’s 18. But most people start drinking way earlier. Like at 12 to 14. There is a huge culture of drinking in parks or in front of apartment buildings, on benches.
Beatriz Serrano: Spain is a heavy drinking culture. We normally start around 14-16. We have a word in Spanish to drink in the streets that is botellón (literally big bottle) and we use it when we buy our drinks at the supermarket and then drink in the street.
Adrien Sénécat: In France there is often some kind of light initiation with family.
Beatriz: Wait, what?
Adrien: Yeah, like when you are 10 years old and people give you a little wine or champagne on family celebrations. It’s partly an attempt to educate kids: If they know how wine should taste they are less likely to binge-drink later in life.
Conz Preti, from Argentina. Loves: Bulleit on the rocks.
Conz Preti: In Argentina, similar to France, you drink with the family. My mom would give me a tiny bit of wine with seltzer, at age 12. She said it was a Spanish tradition but judging by Beatriz’s reaction I guess it’s not?
Javier Aceves: The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, but we start drinking much earlier. The quinceañera (15th birthday) parties are pretty much the first experience with ~permitted~ alcohol parties. But since law enforcement in Mexico tends to be corrupt, you can buy alcohol everywhere.
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Zainab Shah: It’s illegal to drink in Pakistan, but we start drinking bootlegged alcohol in high school. It also helps if your parents drink at home. We always spent the night at friends’ houses whose parents had bars and then we’d sneak someone’s dad’s bottle.
Wale Lawal, Nigeria. Loves: Mai tai.
Wale Lawal: In Nigeria, the kids in my generation started drinking early. We’re the problematic generation, the ones who barely had anyone watching over them because while we were growing up, Nigeria was changing gears, money was beginning to flow albeit sluggishly after a recession in the ’80s. I’m a ’90s kid.
Ailbhe Malone: In Ireland, people expect you to be drinking before you’re 18. Parents will often buy beers with the proviso of “I’d rather you did it in the house, with what I’ve bought, than with spirits in the park.”
Is it difficult to buy alcohol when you are underage?
Victor: It’s quite possible to buy hard liquor in Russia if you’re underage. Some shops won’t even ask you anything.
Javier Aceves, Mexico. Loves: Mexican craft beer.
Javier: Not difficult at all. You can buy alcohol everywhere. We call them tardeadas which can be translated to evening parties, where there’s supposed to be zero alcohol, but…Mexico. There was a big scandal a couple of years ago in Mexico City where police raided one of these places, they blocked the entrance and there was a stampede. Lots of kids died.
Zainab: It’s all bootlegged so you just have to know the right people. It’s not easy to buy alcohol for girls, actually. Some guy friend would always have to do it.
Is there a drink that is particularly associated with teenagers?
Beatriz: Cheap beers and also Martini with lemonade, Malibú with pineapple.
Javier: We call them gomichelas. It’s beer (Mexican beer, like Corona) with lemon, chilli, salt, and gummy bears. They sell the best ones outside the Estadio Azteca.
Conz: That sounds horrible.
Javier: They’re actually good micheladas. They sometimes throw Clamato on it.
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In the UK we have a lot more variety in this area. Lambrini, Woodpecker cider, alcopops like WKD. These are things no-one drinks after the age of about 21.
Beatriz: In Spain the equivalent is calimotxo, which is red wine with Coke, a cheapskate version of Sangria. And anything cheap. There are bottles of rum for 3 euros.
Adrien Sénécat, from France. Loves: wheat beer.
Adrien: In France your parents would be even more angry at you if they know the alcohol you drank was calimotxo. It’s blasphemous for French people.
Zainab: Moonshine, or beer. There is one Pakistani brewery despite alcohol being banned. They get away with it by claiming to cater to non-muslim expats. Bhang is popular. It’s made with marijuana, not alcohol, and people in villages drink it freely.
Conz: There was a very cheap brand of wine called Uvita that was super sweet and super cheap so you would get very drunk fast.
Javier: There’s this disgusting distillate which some criminals baptised as mezcalito (not mezcal at all) that’s called Tonayan. It’s available in every Mexican convenience store and is cheap AF. So you make what we call aguas locas with Tonayan. Pour the whole thing in horchata or hibiscus water and boom: You got your “crazy water”.
Mat: In Oz we have Passion Pop, which is like sparkling wine but cheap as hell and tastes like candy. Also goon (boxed wine) is hellishly cheap and very popular to pour directly into your mouth.
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Adrien: In France we have a lot of artisanal eau de vie (strong fruit liquor). Whenever you try it in parties when you are 15 years old it ends really, really badly.
Beatriz: Eau de mort.
How central a role does alcohol play in socialising? Is there a conformist pressure to drink?
Wale: Clubbing, especially, is very much a part of Lagos culture and so is alcohol as a social instrument. There’s peer pressure to drink in Nigeria but you can choose not to – people will simply assume you are Muslim, and are extremely understanding about that.
Beatriz Serrano, Spain.
Loves: White wine, gin and tonic.
Beatriz: In Spain we are social drinkers so it’s weird if someone doesn’t even have a beer or something. They’ll ask you why you don’t, and you have to give a good reason (“I’m taking medication”, “I’m ill”) if you don’t want the questionnaire to go further. I have a friend who says that she doesn’t trust people who don’t drink.
Javier: This is a big issue in Mexico. It’s common for people to say you are a “puto” (derogatory word for coward, also used to refer to homosexuals) when you’re leaving, or won’t have another drink. There is social pressure for people to get shots, end up shitfaced.
Ailbhe: Booze plays a big part in socialising in Ireland. People would question why you weren’t drinking. “Are you on antibiotics?” is a question so common it’s almost a meme.
Mat: Yeah, Aus and Ireland sound similar. There’s a huge casual drinking culture here that’s accepted as part of the Aussie way of life. I’ve had a few friends do the “no booze for a month” thing and each time they’re met with…I don’t want to say contempt but…
Zainab Shah, Pakistan. Loves: Bourbon.
Are you familiar with the concept of pre-gaming? i.e. Getting really drunk at home before you go out.
Zainab: Pre-gaming is the only gaming in Pakistan.
Conz: YAAAAAS. Things start late in Argentina. Have dinner, take a nap, wake up at around midnight, change, go to someone’s house, pregame until like 3am or so, and then go to the party/club. Sometimes the pregames go so long we end up not going anywhere.
Javier: We call it pre-copeo. It started as an inexpensive way to get blown-off before going out. But as we grow up, and Mexico’s cities become more and more dangerous, pre-copeo has turned into copeo only.
Ailbhe: Yeah, we’d call it pre-lash in Dublin. Drinking in Ireland is expensive – about 5 euro a pint, so it’s cost efficient to have a drink or two before you go out.
Are there any popular drinks that other nationalities might not be familiar with? What are the best and worst?
Victor: Well, things are simple in Russia. Russians drink beer and vodka.
Adrien: In France I would say Pastis, a strong alcohol you dilute with water.
Wale: Among young Nigerians, Orijin, which is a mixture of herbs, fruits, and alcohol produced by Diageo. I don’t like it but everyone else loves it. Then there’s Alomo Bitters, which is really hardcore stuff. It separates men from boys, women from girls, the soul from the body. I had it once for a dare and even now I’m getting flashbacks.
Beatriz: We have different types of drinks depending if you are in the north or south of Spain. In the north you have a lot of liquors, like coffee liquor that is delicious. In the south of Spain you have different types of wine: manzanilla or Jerez (sherry).
Conz: We drink a lot of Fernet and Coke. Fernet is Italian, but the Coke touch is Argentine.
Javier: We drink a lot of mezcal – that’s the boho drink. In a clubby setting Bacardi and Coke will be the weapon of choice. But a cantina will be populated with tequila and/or brandy lovers.
Ailbhe Malone, Ireland. Loves: gin and tonic.
Ailbhe: You could give poitín a try, which is kind of like a potato vodka? It used to be moonshine but now there’s some ~artisan~ brands that probably won’t cause you so much trouble.
Mat: I’m trying to spread the Australian “drop bear” shot. That’s basically just a shot of Bundy rum into half a pint of beer.
Ailbhe: What’s it taste like?
Mat: Like being punched in the back of the mouth by an angry marsupial.
What are some colourful words for “drunk” in your language? I’ll kick off with British examples: twatted, banjaxed, rat-arsed, pished.
Victor: I like the Russian “sinebol” which means alcoholic or even “v zyuzyu” which means totally drunk.
Adrien: French has “bourré”, “cuité”, “raide”, “saoul”, “torché”, “déchiré”.
Beatriz: In Spain we say “Voy muy ciego”, which literally means “I’m so blind.” We also use “piripi”, “bolinga”, “voy fino”, “mamado”, “llevo un pedal”, and “Como las Grecas” (Las Grecas were a famous band in Spain, two gypsy sisters who died by overdose).
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Conz: Argentinians say “Estoy del orto” (orto means ass, so the literal translation is “I AM ASS”), or “veo doble” (which means “I see double”).
Javier: In Mexico, “Estoy pedo”. “Pedo” means fart. Also… “Estoy hasta la madre” (I’m up to my mother), “estoy hasta atrás” (I’m all the way to the back).
Mat: Wait, you say you’re fart if you’re drunk?
Ailbhe: Ossified (as in, you’re so drunk, it’s in your actual bones).
Wale: I done high. That’s how Nigerians say it.
Mat: Shitfaced, fucked off your tits, absolutely gone, cunted. Australians just get really aggressive and sweary when we describe being drunk.
Would you say it’s common, and unremarkable, for people to drink every day? Or would that be regarded as alcoholism?
Victor: No, it’s totally OK! I mean if you keep drinking every day in Russia there will be quite a long time before anyone questions it – it’s a normal thing to do.
Mat: Russia is my spiritual home, apparently.
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Beatriz: A glass of wine or a beer is OK. We Spanish are very tolerant with social drinking. If you drink a bottle of whiskey alone in your house every day, that’s a problem.
Adrien: In France, if you drink with people it’s safe, if you drink alone you have a problem.
Beatriz: When I was living in London I saw a difference. In Spain, we have casual beers and go home, but I find your after-work drinks like… “Oh my god, this is drinking.”
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Wale: It is definitely unremarkable for people to drink every day in Lagos. Understandably so. Life in Nigeria is harsh and there’s a relationship between the consumption of alcohol and the general wretchedness of one’s life.
Javier: Drinking alone is a sign of alcoholism here. Also, having drinks after work on weekdays (like you crazy Brits) is seen as a problem.
Conz: I’m an alcoholic according to Mexico.
Mat Whitehead, Australia. Loves: Negroni.
Mat: Yeah I’m a massive alco in Mexico apparently. I love a beer or two (or six) at home. But also if you want a vodka lime soda or jug of mimosas to yourself on a Sunday afternoon…get it, girl. A few glasses of wine with dinner – that’s just good health.
What’s the national conversation like in terms of drinking to excess? Are there particular groups in society who are singled out as problem drinkers?
Wale: The only general perception of note is that Nigerians are the third-largest consumers of Hennessey, and we take this to be a good thing, a sign of prosperity. Young people in particular are singled out as problem drinkers. Nollywood has a role in this. In our films, the moment you see young people drinking, there’s trouble. Young female drinkers are pretty much terrorists.
Victor: Actually now drinking in Russia is becoming less popular with youths than before. But older generations still drink a lot.
Zainab: In Pakistan nobody talks about it. Everybody does it. Everybody hides it.
British people love to talk about being hungover. There’s no taboo. It’s seen as a necessary part of life. Is it different where you’re from?
Adrien: Yeah, French people love to brag about how much they drank the night before, and how they feel destroyed the morning after.
Javier: Mexican food is great for hangovers, so we have a whole hangover culture that surrounds food, restaurants, and… more drinking. We have a word for that, conectarla (connect it), that means that the best way to survive a hangover is getting drunk again.
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Is there a hangover cure everyone swears by? In Britain it’s traditional to eat something greasy: a fried breakfast or a bacon sandwich. No one believes it actually dispels a hangover, but it’s the done thing.
Victor: There’s no single recipe. Some people use more alcohol to cure hangovers. Some people eat special pills you can buy in a drug store.
Conz: Pizza. Or just sleeping until 3pm.
Javier: Tacos. Chilaquiles. Seafood. Anything spicy will do. Of course a couple of micheladas can help too 🙂
Ailbhe: A fry, with black and white pudding. Or a chicken fillet roll (YUM).
Mat: A bacon and egg roll, some berocca, and a big glass of harden-the-fuck-up.