Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Posted by Laurel Garver on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 30 comments
Welcome to the next stop on the "Shh...it's a secret" blog hop. Participants can share a story about a secret pact they have made, a friend they are close to, or a close knit group that has helped them through hard times.

The Pub Pact (or the Anti-Saloon League gets some sense)

Welcome back to Warwickshire, long-lost cousin!
I’d been dreaming of going to England since the day Mom read me the story of Lucy Pevensie hiding in a wardrobe and landing in Narnia. Not only was England magical, but also, according to my Dad, our ancestral home. Though my Webster ancestor left Warwickshire for Connecticut in the 1600s, I was certain that going back would feel like arriving home. It would be a struggle to get there, of course. As the youngest of five, I knew college alone would be financially difficult for my family, and studying abroad? That would be above and beyond—something I’d have to make happen for myself. For seven years I worked a string of terrible jobs, from Avon lady to foam-head carnival character to janitor to discount store cashier. My college study abroad experience, I believed, would be my Cinderella-at-the-ball experience.

What a starry-eyed kid I was.

My college friends who’d spent a semester abroad before me gave me lists of things you couldn’t buy there (back in the pre-Internet era). I loaded up on Reese’s cups, a giant jar of Jiff and some favorite toiletries and considered myself ready.

I hadn’t prepared at all for the possibility that culture clashes would be deeper than a British dislike of peanut butter. My rudest awakening was discovering the program I’d joined, run by a consortium of Christian colleges, would be plopping us into a secular school—one with a culture built around pub crawling.

Social lubricant or demon drink?
I was old enough to drink in the US and well above legal age in Britain. But having grown up in a teetotaler household and spending 3.5 years on a dry campus, I found the idea of binge drinking a bit scary. And as hard as I’d worked to get to the land of castles, cathedrals and magic wardrobes, pub crawls weren’t high on my list of great ways to spend your time and money in England. This left me at total loss of how to not die of loneliness while my classmates went off to get wasted most nights of the week.

Fortunately, I wasn’t quite so alone. I soon discovered that about half of the other American students in our group of 18 weren’t that keen to binge drink. We quickly banded together to make the most of our time abroad actually traveling beyond the strip of pubs near campus. We shared the task of researching hostels and bus schedules, and had some great daytrips and weekends away together.

Early on, it became clear we all took our faith pretty seriously. Soon we were debating American Christianity’s taboo on drinking and whether it’s actually Biblical. Back home, there didn’t seem to be much room for debate on the topic, so it was really refreshing to re-examine my upbringing in light of another culture and try to find some middle ground between total abstinence and total debauchery. Visiting pubs to try local craft brews with a plate of bangers and mash or shepherd’s pie became as much part of the group’s identity as trying a variety of church services and praying together.

While my naïveté took a serious beating during that semester, my study-abroad buddies helped me not just survive, but change, grow and thrive.

image credits:  castles.org; realbeer.com
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The "Shh...it's a secret" blog hop is in honor of the recent release of Poetry Pact volume 1. Blog hop host Angela Felsted is offering awesome prizes to those who participate in the hop and/or help promote the anthology. Click HERE to find out more.

Want to join the blog hop? Sign up here:

30 comments:

  1. Loved learning about this experience. I feel like it would make an interesting essay or even novel. :) I am so curious about this group and how you fit into it.

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    1. I think so many of my funniest experiences could have only happened in the early '90s or before. Would that make it historic fiction? (gah!) No cell phones for one made it really interesting to reserve theatre tickets from a phone booth on a busy roundabout for example.

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  2. This is a really great story. I went to England once, but I was morning sick at the time, so no Shepherd's Pie for me. Nope. I drank a lot of soda, though. :D

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    1. Morning sickness and travel are rough! Sorry to hear your tummy wasn't up for sampling the local cuisine. My hubby loves to make recipes from the site "Great British Kitchens." Divine ideas for roasts, and many yummy comfort foods.

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  3. That was absolutely fascinating!!! Great hop entry, Laurel <3

    xoxo
    bru

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    1. Cool thing is, I've maintained contact with most of the group through Facebook, though we did the trip two decades ago.

      I hope to make the hop rounds on Thursday, assuming work does not make it impossible like it did today. Darned deadlines.

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  4. I would've wanted to tour England rather than pubs, too! I'm glad you found a group of like-minded people to experience the wonder of England with. I hope to see that beautiful country some day!!

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    1. We all set our class schedules to have no Friday classes and took trips like crazy. As a student you can get cheap bus tickets and stay in youth hostels. It was TOTALLY awesome!

      Hubby and I are planning to visit friends in London next summer. It will be our daughter's first trip abroad. My fourth England trip, hubby's third. I'm becoming kind of addicted!

      BTW, it's often quite cheap to go in the winter. And because of the temperate climate there, it's rarely colder than 50 in January.

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  5. Sigh. I've missed your beautiful writing. I'm trying to crawl back into the bloggy fold, and your words are like a big bear hug. I'm so looking forward to catching up on your posts.

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    1. Thanks, hon. I haven't written many nostalgic posts like this one in your absence. I think I should do more though. It was a fun trip down memory lane.

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  6. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Did you read Hilary Melton Butcher's blog today? He talks about a Chronicles of Narnia show in Kensington Gardens. Looks like a dream spot!

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    1. I'll have to go check that out. Kewl.

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  7. I'm so glad the trip took a positive turn. I went to Spain and packed peanut butter, jelly, and bread in my suitcase. It saved me.

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    1. The British don't have a great reputation when it comes to food, so you can imagine how scary it might be to deal with British CAFETERIA food. Organ meats were a staple. I'm totally NOT kidding. Kidney, liver, heart, tongue. Between my jar of Jiff and the fish and chips shop I was able to avoid starvation, but not exactly healthy eating.

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  8. Waving as a new follower. BTW Love the family digs.

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    1. Thanks for the follow, Leslie. I don't know exactly where in Warwickshire my ancestors came from. Probably not Warwick castle--the photo was a way of poking fun at my dreamy nature. :-)

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  9. Binge drinking is (unfortunately) a big part of college life. I went to college parties, but to dance and meet people. I never drank a lot. In fact, I preferred cola to booze--which meant that at 3 o'clock in the morning, when the alcohol-drinkers were passing out or getting sick, I was still bright-eyed and wanting to dance. I didn't have anyone to make a secret pact with, though!

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    1. I found out years later that there was a hidden binge drinking culture going on at the Christian college I attended in the US. It was forced pretty deep underground though, since kids who got caught were often expelled. Can't say I'm sorry to have missed the drunken parties. We had to be a lot more creative to have a good time. Elaborate pranks, game nights, Frisbee in the dark, other clean fun.

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  10. That is a great group to have been in at a time when peer pressure can get kind of bad. Good for you, and for your friends!

    (And also thank you for your thoughtful and kind words on my blog today. Thanks very much!)
    :)

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    1. Good friends can make all the difference when navigating tough environments and tough times. It's a lot easier to go against the grain with allies rather than going it alone.

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  11. How lucky you were to have the experience and to gain such a wonderful group of friends/supporters. I never was around binge drinking, but I can imagine it could be very intimidating. Congratulations for holding your ground. :)

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    1. Drinking to excess is sadly a big part of campus life, one that never appealed much to me. It was great to have friends while abroad who wanted to see the sites as much as I did

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  12. Hooray for you guys getting outside the pubs and actually exploring the country! Sometimes you just have to take the initiative, right? Two things I learned here today--the Brits don't like PB??? I've never been on a pub crawl. (I know, backfire. ;o)

    Thanks, Laurel! <3

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    1. It was too good an opportunity to waste, especially because European counties cater to student travelers--making it cheap and easy.

      Peanuts grow only in hot climates (like the deep South), so they're not a native British food item. When presented with a piece of toast, they're more likely to smear it with either Marmite or jam. Oh, and Brits use the term jelly to mean gelatin, like Jell-o. The idea of eating THAT with PB truly is gross. I was constantly having to clarify that we eat PB with "preserves"; it's a savory with a sweet and is quite nice.

      Keep in mind, I was over there in the early 1990s and Britain was just beginning to have American-style supermarkets. Back then they carried only "natural" PB that was gritty, oily and rather disgusting. They had a Snickers-type candy called a "Marathon bar" that had peanut chunks in it. Otherwise, no peanuts. When I was back in 2006, I noticed a few new products with peanuts. Not many though.

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  13. Sounds like a great group of people. Interestingly enough the two times (parents were determined we go there and a friend of my husband's got married in Scotland) we made it to the UK, we visited only one or two pubs and they felt like family restaurants with a high priority on sitting a long time and chatting with everyone around you . . .maybe because those pubs were nowhere near colleges. They were like big family restaurants with space to play for the kids because the food was a 90 minute wait . . .on purpose so we could "enjoy the atmosphere."

    I grew up in a newly Christian household, but possibly because of the church we attended, I never got the sense that all Christians were teetolers. I am, but not because anyone in my church experience told me I had to be . . .but because of my own personal choice.

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  14. Pubs vary from one to the next, and time of day matters too. The college crowd rolls in late, usually after the young families are gone. The restaurant comparison is interesting, because we quickly learned pubs usually don't have table service. There's a totally different etiquette to ordering, tipping, etc than at restaurants. If you don't go to the bar to order, they might eventually figure out you're a foreigner who isn't up on the unwritten rules, but that may take an hour or more.

    European Christians are not teetotalers--that's an entirely American phenomenon that comes out of 19th century activism (I did a bunch of research on the prohibition movement in grad school--fascinating stuff). Like you said, not even all American Christians are teetotalers, just certain branches. My college would not let even the professors drink--even off campus. Back then they had rules against dancing too. This year they added a dance MAJOR. That kind of blew my mind. :-)

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  17. That's a great story, Laurel. I guess growing up in Montreal, which has such a high English/Irish/Scottish/Welsh influence, we were exposed to pub culture early on. But it's entirely different in the UK - never mind the binge drinking of young folks, the pubs are really the core of the smaller communities and villages. It's where the workers gather, where gossip and news is dished out, where families come together. And, sadly, it's dying out, as more and more pubs close or become chain-owned.
    Can you tell I'm a fan of good old England :-)

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    1. Definitely British pub culture is overall very different from American bar culture. Finding that family atmosphere with moderate alcohol consumption in the mix was eye opening. There IS a happy medium between total abstinence and total debauchery.

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