The International Language of Beer
When Ludwig Zamenhof invented Esperanto in 1887 his goal was for humans to communicate in a common language so peace and international understanding could be fostered regardless of regional or national tongues. Perhaps he was not aware that a lingua franca already existed and it is called beer.
Oh beer – what a priceless gift to humanity. Not only is it packed with nutrition, has myriad health benefits, is a safe source of drinking water, but it begets happiness, sociability, and companionship. No wonder it is the world’s favourite alcoholic beverage.
Walk past a pub, inn, saloon, tavern, shebeen, bar, café, brasserie, bodega, lodge, boozer, and look at the people who are having the most fun. What are they drinking? Beer, bier, cerveja, biera, ビール, birra, bière, пиво, μπύρα, cerveza, 啤酒of course!
Beer is the essential social beverage. There is nothing wrong with drinking it alone at home but how much better does it taste when consumed in company. Beer is not the drink to turn to when in shock, to self medicate with, or for drowning one’s sorrows in. Beer is playful. How many times does a quick beer after work end up hours later with people singing, arms round each other, as they profess unending friendship to a person they met for the first time earlier that evening. It is beer goggles that make the world beautiful. Not brandy goggles.
Picture the scene. A group of strangers are in a pub. One drinks a whisky, another person a glass of wine, someone orders vodka. Chances are they will remain strangers. Now take that same group and fill their glasses with beer. Within minutes they will be friends. Beer drinking encourages bonhomie. I have the satisfaction of observing this close-up because I sometimes work as a tour guide in a British brewery. The brewery has visitors from all over the world. Some speak little or no English. Tour groups vary in their make-up - individuals, couples, sets of work colleagues. People are often shy and don’t interact with the others during the walk through the brewery. But as soon as we go to the bar afterwards and they start drinking the beer something magical happens. Noise levels increase, laughter punctuates the air, the atmosphere becomes very jolly as beer breaks down the barriers and everyone starts talking to each other – regardless of mother tongue. Then afterwards as the visitors leave the bar, faces lit up with smiles, they invariably head to the nearest pub for more beer together with their new friends.
Those visitors from overseas are envious of British pubs and cask conditioned ale. The latter is a way of serving beer that is all but unique to Britain. It is how beer should be drunk – live, full of flavour, and natural – passionately cared for by the pub’s cellar men and cellar women so customers get a perfect pint. And yes other countries have public spaces for the consumption of alcohol but British pubs are unique in their heritage, interior design, atmosphere, the central role they play in our communities, and the platform they provide for people of different generations, ethnic origins, and social backgrounds to chat and debate. Where else but a pub would such a diverse mix of people be so comfortable interacting socially. And without beer (ale) British pubs would not have developed the way they did. They started off in medieval England as public houses – rooms in someone’s private dwelling that were licensed to sell ale for consumption on the premises. A community without a pub has no heart. French writer Hilaire Belloc recognised that which is why he wrote ‘When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England’.
But that’s not going to happen is it because beer will save the world! Or at least save our pubs. And here’s a reason why. Session beers tend to be around 3.5 - 4% alcohol by volume which means people can drink several pints and not fall over, thereby keeping the party going, and the pub’s tills ringing. ‘Oh go on. I’ll have one more’. So at last orders when the publican shouts out ‘Haven’t you got homes to go to’ he or she might secretly be pleased to have a room full of enthusiastic drinkers who are doing their bit for the Big Beer Society.
So get yourself down the pub and buy a round. British people are much more likely than other nationalities to buy drinks for friends and strangers and not expect anything in return. That generosity of spirit displayed by beer drinkers is summed up in my favourite limerick.
On the chest of a woman from Sale
Was tattooed the price of ale
And on her behind
For the sake of the blind
Was the same information in Braille
Try this experiment on your friends. Ask them what Spanish phrases they know. I bet you a fiver they will include – ‘por favour; gracias; and dos cervezas signor’. I don’t know about you, but whenever I go overseas I learn the basic phrases in the local language to be polite, and be able to order beer. On a recent visit to Zambia, where there are 72 tribal languages, I studied enough of the four main dialects to make myself understood when I ended up in the bar each night to drink Mosi, the local brew. In Zambia I realised that in addition to beer there is another international language – football. Luckily I am fluent in both so now I have new mates in Mongu, Lusaka, and Mufulira. It may have been Wayne Rooney who introduced us but it was beer that sealed our friendship.
Jane Peyton, London
School of Booze
Image Credit- food