Let’s say you want a drink. (I know, it’s far-fetched already. Just bear with me.) If you are in Jolly Old England, you may pop open your favorite bottle of Beefeater gin, mix yourself a drink, and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Just walk your Irish wolfhound through the park while sipping your stirred martini.
If you are in the United States, you must drink that martini, shaken or stirred, indoors. Whether it be in a home or a bar or a restaurant, as long as you’re inside you may consume to your heart’s content. (Or until you start inappropriately groping the waitstaff, and are then flagged by the bartender.) But if you want to take that drink outside, you had better be prepared to conceal your bottle in a brown paper bag and dodge the cops, because that is illegal.
And here is why:
A British man was having troubles with his landlord. The problems escalated until finally one day this happened: it was tea time, and the tenant did not offer the landlord tea. “I was rude to him,” the man told his wife. “He won’t be back.” Problem. Solved.
An American man was having troubles with his landlord. The problems escalated until finally one day this happened: the guy took a Louisville Slugger to the landlord’s car, then urinated in his gas tank. Problem. Solved. Solved. Solved?
The culture of America is one of robustness. We don’t act calmly or rationally when we’re sober and happy:
- “What a great Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s go outside and shoot rifles wildly into the trees.”
- “The Who is playing? Great! How many people can we trample to death on the way in?”
- “Hey, The Phillies won the World Series! … Let’s set this car on fire!”
Because of this American temperament, this robustness, time has taught us that we cannot trust ourselves to walk around wherever we want, pumping ourselves full of liquid courage. When the cultural disposition is Cowboy Embodied – us walking around with our hips cocked, our guns slung, just waiting for someone to start a fight so we may assert our assertiveness – the last thing we can be trusted with is public drunkenness.
Of course this isn’t to say that every Brit solves his problems with passive aggression, nor that every American is willing to take a dump on your Honda. I’ve never even held a real rifle, let alone engaged in celebratory gunfire after a delicious roasted turkey.
However, it is undeniable that as a culture Americans are highly expressive, and encouraged to be so in every facet of our lives. Any self-help book, any guide to success, any episode of Dr. Phil – they all encourage us to be open with our wants and feelings. To be a healthy, functional American, one has to be able to assert himself and communicate in an effective and assertive manner.
So in a culture where we are expected to be forceful in a state of sobriety, where can we go other than bat-shit-crazy when our inhibitions are released (via all those shots of Jagermeister)? By denying ourselves the luxury of drinking in public, we are denying ourselves the obvious opportunity to unleash that beast into the urban wild.
Unlike a culture where “unleashing the beast” amounts to throwing copious amounts of breadcrumbs out the side window, so that birds may mess on the neighbor’s lawn.