Thursday, June 23, 2011

American style drinking versus Chinese Style drinking

I have a good friend out here in Shanghai who is from Singapore, named Karl. He's very well off, educated in the UK and an all around crazy guy, the other day he asked me why Americans don't buy bottles at nightclubs here but instead individual drinks? He told me, he just didn't understand it. As a Lao Wei or a foreigner as well as a bartender I always thought that with the exception of a few select spots,the cocktails in the mainland just sucked in general and this led to it being smarter and better to buy a bottle. It's one of those things I've noticed my entire stay, if there are a group of Asians they will almost always order a few bottles of either Champagne or Whiskey and Green Tea or Vodka and mixers for their table. In terms of Westerners, it's always rounds of drinks.

I thought about it a little bit, maybe it was due to the fact that most Chinese people I know don't like to rent - they buy. So renting an apartment is frowned upon here - you stay with your parents until you have enough money to buy your own place. Why buy a drink in a bar for 70 rmb (almost 10 US) when you can typically buy a bottle for around 700-1000RMB (or roughly $100-$150)?
In  the nightclubs - the local culture is to grab a table with your friends, order many, many, many bottles, girls,fruit plates, as you smoke lots of cigarettes and party all night.

In the States, while it's not unheard of getting bottle service at the club it's just extra VIP, balla status. Not the norm. In the States a huge mega dance club will have a big dance floor, huge bars and a small VIP section. In China, where the people are a little more conservative with how they’re perceived, the dance floors are much smaller and usually packed with Lao Wei and bottle service reigns supreme. There are even second and third tier cities where there is no bar, just a small dance floor, 300 tables, lots of black lights and Lady Gaga.

Karl keyed me in the fact that the Chinese are very communal. This goes from the way they eat, in terms of big family style shared plates, the way the families live together as a group and how most holidays are centered around spending time with relatives and loved ones to the the way they drink. A bottle bought for the table is the ultimate showing of community. It's a little feudal as well, Karl explained to me, when he orders a bottles at the club, it's now his table - he's king of the table. The girls, the booze, he's host of the table and it's in a way holding court and  as always  I am the strange and ruggedly handsome visitor from a strange and far off land. There is more to it as well, at a Chinese table there are tons of drinking games, dice, things with your hands, all designed around getting everyone at the table, involved together, communicating, getting hammered drunk and bonding over distilled grain products.

In a western table with individual drinks the conversations turn more individual, one on ones. If we are westerners together at a bar are conversations are for the most part centered around groups of two's and threes. Obviously the exception is for birthday groups or bachelor/hen parties but that is not the norm.

So next time you're at a bar or a club in the States and you can afford it, or grab your friends and pitch in for a bottle. If anything, a shared bottle at a table is much like a campfire in that everyone gathers around it, it's sparks conversations that you might not of had before, it creates memories and hell, it's a lot easier then going back and forth for another round of Appletinis. If anything, you've got a story to tell. Play drinking games, cheers loudly with friends and bond over that booze - it's one of the reasons life is great in the first place.

I wanted to make some kind of bold statement about the differences in mindsets is that Americans are a nation of individuals, we've been told since our birth to be unique, to stand out whereas the Chinese are taught from the beginning that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down hardest and that conformity was the name of the game - I wanted to make some far reaching metaphor about Justin Beiber and Chairman Mao but it's getting late and both Karl and the KTV are calling and you never want to turn down a KTV with Crazy Karl....