On social media, I found photos of frosty pints on beaches, drinks in airport and ship terminals, Easter beers, and long drinks quaffed at ice-hockey matches. Someone snapped photos of their cute kid playing through a glass of red wine. Many people posed at a sparkling wine stand at a fair, acting as unpaid promoters. The captions referred to the beverages as having been “earned,” “enjoyed” and “long-awaited.” Friends were tagged on binging photos. Based on my observations, I wrote my book Tiedostavan siemailun taito (The Art of Conscious Sipping, Atena 2019). On its pages, I ponder how you can make the best alcohol choices for yourself in our booze-pickled landscape.
During my year of alcohol-spotting, I realised that photos of drinks, cheers emojis and memes that encourage you to drink have quite a power to mark our peak emotions. People use such visuals when they’re flirting, offering congratulations and encouragement, and sharing their own special and relaxing moments and holiday memories. But they also reveal a great deal of neediness or grief. When someone I know captioned a photo of a red wine glass on her living room table with the text, “At least my wine knows that I exist,” it was hard to decide whether I should “like” the photo or be concerned about her wellbeing.
My alcohol-aware glasses revealed that in Finland it’s impossible to choose in which situations you encounter alcohol, because alcohol is present almost everywhere — at the movies, ice-hockey games, library, stretching classes ... and even in the classroom of a spreadsheet software training course. When you visit a pet store to pick up litter for your turtle, you can also buy a six-pack of “beer” for your dog and three different kinds of “wine” for your cat.
You encounter alcohol at work, too. Bubbly bottles pop when bosses retire. Glasses are raised to successful deals. There are Friday bottle lotteries, after-work drinks and boozy seminars. When you’re off work, drink comes sloshing towards your lips in the unlikeliest of places — like forest tours with liquid lunches and wine & hymns evenings. Of course, it’s possible to authentically enjoy such events, but they have a downside, too. It’s a shame if your yoga class or mushroom-picking expedition no longer feels like a relaxing experience if you don’t have a drink to cap it off.
Perhaps we also try to convince ourselves that doing the dishes or making it to Wednesday are reason enough to reward yourself with a glass of red wine. I’ve started to suspect that we’ve forgotten how to not drink.
Although we like to think of our drinking situations as special, the effects of alcohol on your body don’t depend on how interesting the event is or how classy the surroundings are when you’re pouring drink into your mouth. It’s the same stuff, whether you’re taking a five a.m. airport selfie with a drink in hand or are tippling at the kitchen table. And the same is true of that glass you enjoy with your pet. Although Internet memes claim different, when you’re drinking with Spot or Mittens, you’re drinking alone. Even when Spot slurps up broth poured from a novelty bottle, that gag doesn’t change his owner’s glass of booze into something else.
During the year, it became clear to me that you can’t engage in conscious sipping simply by avoiding places where alcohol is served. You wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. The only option is to become more conscious about alcohol-related messages — to stop for a moment to look at your own daily life through alcohol-aware glasses and think about what you have become habituated to associating with alcohol in your life, without noticing. Are there too many such moments?
Instead of just going along with your habits without thinking, you should consciously decide on the moments in which you really do want to consume alcohol. And then, by the way, that drink tastes much better, too — studies show that this is true.
journalist, non-fiction writer and screenwriter.
Article picture: Riikka Kantinkoski