36

I see a number of answers in this site where building contacts over a glass of beer is encouraged. Moreover the cream of academia belongs to the Western world, where beer culture is common. Unfortunately though, I am a rigid teetotaler and I do not know about the ins-and-outs of the preferences of drinking friends of mine. I confess I'd make a terrible company at a public house. But I hasten to add that in general, I am amiable and move around quite well with people within my limitations.

Does my being a teetotaler put me at a grave disadvantage when it comes to establishing intelligent academic contacts?

  • 13
    Are you comfortable going to a bar/pub and not drinking? – StrongBad Apr 3 '13 at 20:38
  • @DanielE.Shub Yes I am – seteropere Apr 3 '13 at 22:20
  • 1
    Better suited to The Workplace - nothing here specific to academia – EnergyNumbers Apr 4 '13 at 3:54
  • 11
    Hello, my name is Jeff, and I am an academic. ("Hi, Jeff!") – JeffE Apr 4 '13 at 4:29
  • 7
    No drink is no problem, but you should definitely work to improve the "I'd make a terrible company at a public house" part. – Federico Poloni Apr 4 '13 at 7:35
37

No. What really helps in building academic contacts is not beer, wine or any other alcohol, but the ability to generate informal discussions in relaxed settings. Fortunately, there are many ways to achieve that goal that do not require the intake of alcohol!

Even without going very far from drinking, sharing a nice lunch or dinner in an appropriate setting is one good way to establish contacts.

  • 21
    Even at the bar you can always just ask for a soda - and it won't bother anyone! – Andy W Apr 3 '13 at 20:25
  • 1
    @AndyW I don't think that's totally true. If I was to meet somebody and they ordered a soda, I wouldn't order a beer. If they ordered a beer, I'd definitely join in, and feel it being a lot more casual. – kba Apr 4 '13 at 1:05
  • 2
    Less formal than an organized lunch is grabbing a coffee (I realize not an option if you're LDS), soda, juice, or just going for a walk. The idea is to get everyone relaxed and out of the office. Beer is a common way to do it, but certainly not the only one. – chmullig Apr 4 '13 at 3:06
  • 1
    As another data point: Suresh and I have a colleague who carries a frisbee with him everywhere. A friendly game of Ultimate (or even just Catch) can work just as well as a few rounds of drinks. – JeffE Apr 4 '13 at 4:29
  • 1
    @F'x: Foosball / table football / babyfoot works, too. – JeffE Apr 4 '13 at 8:56
17

Based on my experience, I will say that unfortunately the answer is yes. i.e. it puts you at a subtle disadvantage because you are different from the rest. Note I am saying 'subtle' because no one will readily admit treating you differently.

Alcohol serves a social purpose and is often used to create instant connection between two people. Its part of the cultural landscape. It is easy and acceptable.

Just let your ideas speak for themselves and then it will not matter if you drink or not drink alcohol for those who are serious about working with you.

In my case, I try to socialise in the morning because coffee is the only option then!

  • 3
    I admire your guts. – scaaahu Apr 4 '13 at 7:03
  • 3
    I recognise what you say, but from personal experience, the subtle disadvantage is less if you are already from a different culture. I've found that I get much less questions about my "odd" behaviours when I'm abroad then when I'm in my home country. – gerrit Apr 5 '13 at 22:51
13

I had suggested the beer night idea, and you're right that this would be uncomfortable for teetotallers. As it turns out, we do have people in our group who don't drink: they usually order juice or something else, and no one really notices.

I have heard of gatherings (typically in more business settings) where there's some posturing about the kinds of whisky/beer/wine one drinks: that's not at all what I had in mind.

7

I am not drinking alcohol and it does not prohibit social interactions in academia: just order an orange juice and nobody will think bad of you.

That said, socializing requires to find a common base for discussion. Being different in common aspects (e.g. drinking alcohol and commenting on how good or bad the beer is, speaking English with a strong accent, etc...) generally does not matter if you are prolific in other aspects shared with others (e.g. international politics, latest results in your field, latest gossip in the field, etc...). Once established a base of common interest, differences even make a good discussion topic, as researchers are generally open minded people interested in learning new topics.

At the last conference I attended, the social event was at a pub and the conference dinner at a restaurant with an open bar. I had orange juice and self-assigned the mission to take pictures of the event, which in itself helped to start various discussions.

4

The only academic teetotaller that I know of is Raj Koothrappali (which probably tells something about my circles). Have you ever tried non-alcoholic beer? You can find quite good, actually (my wife is pregnant now, so we have the fridge stuffed with it), although an average bar may not carry it.

Generally, I believe you are way overthinking the drinking culture. Do your socialization in the morning over coffee, or around the lunch time; excuse yourself at night by saying that you are a strictly morning person.

Also, by being/converting to a morning person, you can hit a very good stratum of physically active academicians who jog in the morning. I generally hate running, but whenever I go to conferences, I know that I will generally be overeating throughout the day, oversitting the calories at the talks, so I just have to run. Find other people who do run, too, and socialize with them.

  • 2
    This seems like a bit of an extreme approach to me (being much more of an evening person myself). What's wrong with just socialising with people in the evening without drinking? – Tara B Apr 4 '13 at 2:12
  • 7
    He's definitely not a teetotaller. Actually, a major plot device in the show is Raj being able to speak to women only after he drinks alcohol. – Federico Poloni Apr 4 '13 at 7:33
  • +1 for alcohol-free beer. Alcohol free stuff is big in Sweden, so I tried my fair share when I had the car with me. – posdef Apr 4 '13 at 10:54
  • Alcohol is generally forbidden in Islam and I do not think OP's problem is very rare (though people may not articulate it explicitly). – Bravo Apr 4 '13 at 13:16
  • 1
    @Bravo, if dietary restrictions, such as fasting, are brought up upfront in a social setting, I would not expect people to have problems with that, and respect the religious constraints. However, the question of "What is your religion, and how closely you follow your book?" is an extremely awkward one, so the responsibility of bringing their restrictions up lies with the people that have these restrictions. I, for one thing, have seafood allergies that I mention as soon as any dinner plans are being formed. – StasK Apr 4 '13 at 15:46
3

Perhaps. But only if you are uncomfortable about meeting in a bar/pub and ordering juice while others are ordering alcoholic drinks. Few people will notice (or care enough to ask why) you aren't drinking alcohol. A simple "No thanks, I prefer juice", or something similar, is usually well accepted.

Of course, if you were also uncomfortable with being in a bar, that might limit your net-working with academic contacts, if only slightly. It depends on the individuals and the culture in your situation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.