South Asians have a love-hate relationship with alcohol

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Pradip Rodrigues

A couple of summers ago, a Caucasian I knew who briefly rented a place in Brampton commented that she loved Brampton’s sprawling parklands. The city is after all aptly called Flower City, a testimony to its legacy of boasting a large greenhouse industry. But the one thing that unnerved her in the summer was encountering large groups of lecherous South Asian men middle-aged and seniors sitting under trees, they made no secret of their drinking whisky out of plastic bottles and cups. Their raucous laughter could be heard from afar and they could often be seen urinating in bushes around.

In some South Asian dominated neighborhoods, the garage is often a meeting place for men to play cards and drink for hours on end.

The Caucasian woman could not understand why elderly men came to parks to play cards and drink until they were barely able to walk when they could do the same at home. She could understand young men behaving in this fashion but certainly not grown fathers and grandfathers!

I thought about that observation recently as I read about politicians in cities across Canada thinking about allowing alcohol and cannabis consumption in city parks.

North American cities are often ridiculed for its puritanical streak and approach to dealing with consumption of alcohol in parks. European cities like Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid and Lisbon are often held up as examples of cities where people can quite happily consume alcohol in parks as long as they are drinking out of plastic cups. In any case, plenty of people drink quietly in parks and beaches in Toronto and police for the most part either look the other way or fail to recognize public drinking, especially if the person is drinking out of a Gatorade bottle.

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Having enjoyed the thrill of drinking in public places along with hundreds of others in two European cities and Las Vegas, I did not encounter a single stumbling drunk. Oh yes, I think there was one group of young tourists in Vegas I assume came for the weekend from neighboring Utah where consumption of alcohol is eschewed by many, notably the Mormons.

I have found that in countries where drinking is part of the culture, most people end up drinking responsibly and within limit. Europeans and even a large number of Caucasians in the US are okay with alcohol. Alcohol abuse does tend to happen when young people come into their drinking age and literally test their limit.

But many drinkers in the GTA happen to come from cultures that either do not permit alcohol or disapprove of its consumption. South Asians stand out prominently.

I know plenty of South Asians who love drinking but never in their home because it would offend their parents. Others from the sub-continent who are living without extended family for the first time and have the freedom to drink have grown up gulping drinks in a hurry because it had to be done on street corners before they got home or quietly in bathrooms or away from people they knew.

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The result is that too many South Asians don’t know the art of nursing alcohol. Having been able to drink openly at family events at age 17 for better or for worse, I never had to gulp down drinks and in order to keep my drinking privileges intact, I avoided drinking to the point of oblivion or being obviously drunk in front of family and friends. But many people I knew growing up who came from non-drinking cultures and traditions, ended up drinking until they passed out.

So coming back to South Asian elderly men sitting in groups out in parks, the reason that happens is a cultural phenomenon and also a result of a taboo around consuming alcohol at home especially during the day. South Asian men tend to feel most comfortable drinking copious amounts of hard alcohol in the exclusive company of men. Women participation is strictly frowned upon when men are drinking either at a social gathering or in the park. Especially in the park.

I have been out with many South Asians from non-drinking backgrounds and it is easy to tell. For one, they will look at you funny if you offer them wine or beer. One such person wondered why I wasted money on wine. “What’s the point of drinking if you can’t get drunk?” he admonished. “Wine is for women,” he said adding insult to injury.

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It is safe to conclude that no self-respecting group of South Asian men whom you may encounter drinking in parks or garages will ever be seen drinking wine or beer.

While youth from cultures that revolve around alcohol or support it might drink in excess at some point of their lives, most grow out of it as they get older.

In Europe, binge drinking is in decline along with the working class. It is classy and common for Europeans to have a glass of wine before and during a meal. The idea is to enjoy and savour the experience rather than to just drink to get drunk.

It is likely that most people drinking in parks once it is legalized won’t abuse it. Not just that, they will mostly pick up their litter and deposit their glass and plastic bottles and mugs in the blue recycling containers. However I am willing to bet that most of those ticketed or arrested for disorderly conduct may be groups of teenagers and in that mix more than a few South Asian men who have had one too many.

In some cases it will be their grand kids who will have to bail them out. -CINEWS

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