It is a well-known fact that the English are good at three things: drinking, hooliganism and ignoring the true effects of our colonial past.
Historically intensified hooliganism
But are we the best in the world at those things?
We’re pretty good at that last point. You will notice how I habitually refer to it as our colonial ‘past’, despite how we are currently invading Ireland. (Please direct all comments to the editor.) But given that America was willing to go to great lengths to elect Trump to ignore their past, I’d at least call it a tie. That’s one down.
In a previous article for this publication, I shared my revelatory scientific findings about how Danes are actually better than the English at hooliganism. Two down.
pubescent pub pipe dreams
Then drink. It’s all come down to you.
You can’t beat an English pub can you? Pubs, when I was growing up as a child in the UK, were seen as these mythical centers of national pride, where people from many different backgrounds would clash and turn up after closing time, arm in arm, singing offensive songs in a strange healthy manner.
Based purely on cultural references, I imagined pubs were where I would not only have my first pint, but meet the love of my life, smoke a pipe, get into a fistfight and be recruited into MI5 after winning a game of cards against a shady stranger. All on the same night.
At the very least, I expected them to be places where I could have drinks bought for me by friendly strangers who would share their life stories with me in a way that was somehow not boring.
So it was a rude awakening to realize that my experiences of English pubs tended to lean a little more towards avoiding the 20-something urbanites doing cokes in the toilets of a Wetherspoons.
What bodegas basically are
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise I’ve had since moving here is that my naive expectations of pubs and what they could be actually exist. They are basically what bodegas are.
Bodegas, for those new to town, are tiny wooden huts that have the ability to make you forget your night and make your clothes smell like cigarettes for up to four weeks. They are staffed by friendly people who can usually be seen lighting their cigarettes from the embers of the cigarette they have just finished smoking.
I would estimate – realistically – that about 50 percent of the times I’ve been in a bodega, a stranger has bought me a drink. And to confirm, this is not due to any kind of innate charisma. I’ve never once had a drink bought for me in any other context before, and besides, I’ve been told by several trusted sources that I’m a bit of a dick.
But there’s this vibe when you get into these tiny little places where people are almost forced to socialize with each other – probably because each establishment only seats about two and a half tables, so you often have to share .
And look, it’s not all rosy either. I’ve had several deeply strange, uncomfortable conversations with regulars, including most recently when a demonic-looking woman with cement mixers for vocal cords took me by the hands and told me that ‘Hell’ was a real place and under one of the world’s oceans – I can’t remember which one .
But then again, who wants to have conversations with boring people? Pubs and bodegas exist to create interesting social connections between strange people, whether friends or strangers. And there’s something about the not-so-modern bodegas, a magical quality unknown to anyone that makes people bond and talk and share and overshare and argue and fight and oh, it’s booze, isn’t it…
Yes, it’s booze.