Demonizing Ethnic Drinking

I was a pseudo-Slav for almost 30 years, so … I know a thing or two or three about ethnic drinking!

I have first-hand knowledge of Slavic drinking and the most visceral differences I noticed as compared to Canadian drinking were the names, the šljivo, and the passionate enjoyment that accompanied drinking – at picnics, family dinners and feasts  of the patron saints (slavas). The rowdiness, the overindulgence, and quiet disapproval of others were no different than I had seen growing up in Canada, or travelling through Europe and North America.

A recent stretch in recovery unearthed a preponderance of heavy drinkers who also happen to be writers and who also happen to be Irish — or were we Irish writers who are also heavy drinkers. After following the death-defying alcoholic feats of Jack Taylor in Ken Bruen’s The Magdalen Martyrs, then again in The Guards (2001)

I began to wonder if the Irish or the Serbs are the heaviest drinkers. Both have certainly been mythologized as alcoholics in literature, cinema and the popular press. As a writer and screenwriter, I am well aware that the best of original characters can easily slide into cheap characterizations under the scrutiny of producers and publishers.

I had started looking at the domestic responses to the threats to social order amid the chaos of late 19th and early 20th century London and New York City. What I found was a well-oiled propaganda machine that targeted ‘outsiders’. These were not just immigrants such as the Italians, the Jews and Eastern Europeans, but those who stepped outside the ‘social contract’ to the overall well-being of the ‘group’ — the alcoholics and insane, the criminals, and prostitutes, the hobos and vagrants, and fallen women with their illegitimate litters of orphans, foundlings. All wandered the streets in search of …

In November of 2014, I picked up Ethnic Drinking Subcultures, which took a look at ethnicity and alcohol in American subcultures in the late 1970s. A search for more recent studies came up empty. Still, because America likes to assimilate ethnicity, it did prove to be a valuable look at how different drinking cultures are viewed by societies that value sameness while voicing empty platitudes about individual rights.

Of all the American groups, the Irish are the least likely to be “nonabstainers”, the most likely to report drinking twice a week or more, and the most likely to consume three or more drinks of hard liquor at a sitting. The Slavic group edges out the Irish in the proportion who use drink to enhance enjoyment.


Ethnic Drinking Subcultures / Andrew Greeley, William McCready, Gary Thiesen, 1980 [HV5292.G68]


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