Drinking With The Locals

We explore drinking culture from around the world to bring you the best five customs and oddities we could find — from beer-chugging Prime Ministers, to drinking and driving (don’t do it), to the biggest party in Iceland and more.

Scroll over the locales to see the strange drinking traditions.

Google “weird drinking customs from around the world” and you’re going to be looking at lists with a few true things, some made up “facts” and a lot of misunderstood generalities. We wanted to bring a small sampling of drinking-related customs or facts that are weird, interesting or otherwise, so we did some research and interviewed individuals who reside, or have done extensive traveling, in countries where one might expect peculiar imbibing habits. After asking our Russian traveler about a list of the country’s “customs”, the response was a resounding “meh”: “It’s true they never left any alcohol in their glasses, but [I don’t] know about the rest.” Thanks, Russia. Luckily, we were able to get more thoughtful insights from around the world.

America: Where Solo Cups are Red and Where Some can Legally Drink And Drive


Before the 1970s, if you wanted a cheap, disposable cup, your options were waxy paper or Styrofoam, which had a bad habit of not being red and plastic. Then, the Solo Cup Company introduced the disposable, but surprisingly durable, plastic cup in its signature red color. As the cup became a staple of American drinking, it became synonymous with the cup. In an interview with Slate, Kim Healy, VP of Consumer Business at the Solo Cup Co., said, “I’ve been here 12 years, and I’ve tested this over and over. Consumers prefer red, and it’s not very close. I think for one thing it’s a neutral color that’s appealing to both men and women. It’s also just become a standard.” The same report says that 60 percent of the party cups Solo sells are red, with blue coming in a “distant second”.

On June 9, 1998 the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century was enacted, which attempted to counteract drinking and driving by banning open alcohol containers inside of a motor vehicle. However, as is their right, not all 50 states complied with the act. As a result, state laws in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia currently put no restriction on possession of alcohol by a vehicle’s passenger. However, while the state has no legal ruling, certain counties in these states ban alcohol possession in the passenger seating, meaning county cops in, for example, Columbia, Missouri, can pull you over. Taking it one step farther (someone has to set the bar), Mississippi has no statute governing open container laws, even for drivers. Instead, the state left it up to the counties to decide if drivers can literally drink and drive, as long as their BAC remains below the legal limit of 0.08 (however, nearly half the counties in Mississippi are dry, meaning you can’t even purchase alcohol within county lines). Trust is one word for it.

Clink Glasses, But Never In Hungary


The term “toasting”, as in, “I’m nervous about the toast I have to give tomorrow, do you have any beta-blockers?”, refers to the piece of spiced bread that the English sometimes placed in their wine centuries ago. Even Shakespeare got in on the action: in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff, the odious knight, demands “Go fetch me a quart of sack — put a toast in’t.” Why, exactly? Toast was thought to soak up some of bad wine’s acidity and add some flavor. When a group was drinking from a single wine source, they’d pass it around until only a little wine and the toast were left — and then it was the lucky cup holder’s duty to bolt both down.

Commonly accompanying a toast is the clinking of glasses. Some say doing this following a “cheers” or similar exclamation is used to prevent the poisoning of drinks or to ward away evil spirits, but many of these clinking theories have been disproved. Most likely it’s something more boring and sentimental, like the fact that the sound of clinking is a good way to focus everyone and bring some undivided attention to a special occasion.

Regardless, don’t clink glasses in Budapest, Hungary. Back in 1848, there was a national uprising in Hungary that Austria crushed in 1849. Legend has it that while the Austrians were waiting to execute the leaders of Hungary’s uprising they were celebrating and clinking their glasses. Thus, a 150-year moratorium was placed on the clinking of glasses when drinking. The moratorium has expired, and many young drinkers happily clink their glasses, but if you clink glasses with an older gentleman or lady, don’t be surprised if they clink your face with their fist.

The Former Australian Prime Minister Was A World Class Beer Chugger


In 1955, Bob Hawke, who became Australia’s Prime Minister from 1983 until 1991, was attending University College, Oxford. He came to dinner without a gown (he writes that someone had “borrowed” it), which, at Oxford, was an infraction punishable by having to drink a yard of beer — the equivalent of 2.5 pints — in under 25 seconds (how these penalties were phased out, no one knows). If he failed, he had to pay for another beer and try again. He was broke and knew he couldn’t pay for the extra beer, so he chugged the yard in 11 seconds, earning himself a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. He’s since been overtaken in the record book, but credits his drinking ability to endearing him to “some of [his] fellow Australians more than anything else”.

In Iceland, Beer Day Is March 1st But Verslunarmannahelgi Is Drunker


While prohibition laws generally ended throughout North America and the Nordic countries in the early twentieth century, they remained in Iceland, at least for strong beer, until March 1st, 1989. For this reason, March 1st is considered Beer Day and is celebrating by indulging in what, for decades, Icelanders could not.

However, our sources on the ground in Iceland informed us that March 1st is celebrated by many, but is not as much of a blowout as its name would suggest. Rather Verslunarmannahelgi, the Icelandic equivalent of Labor Day held the first weekend in August, is the drunkest weekend of the year. Thousands of Icelanders attend large outdoor festivals or go camping in their beautiful home country in order to send off summer before the lightless winter begins.

The National Festival (Þjóðhátíð in Icelandic) is the biggest of those annual outdoor festivals. If you are ever around Iceland in July, change your flight and stay for the night before the first Monday in August. That’s when the Þjóðhátíð festival’s signature crowd singing occurs, which is the single biggest event of the weekend.

Canada And The Sour Toe Cocktail


Our Canadian source on unique drinking customs gave us a disheartening reply: “Been thinking about it and our drinking culture is identical to yours. Red cups, funnels, pong and flip and slap cup.” So instead, we bring you a tourist attraction from Dawson City, Yukon’s second most populous city, home to 1,319 people. At those numbers, its residents could maybe fill a small college football stadium.

Dawson City, being Yukon’s closest major city to Alaska, has a unique method for attracting tourists over the border. At the Sourdough Saloon in Dawson, you can become part of the Sour Toe Cocktail Club if you pay $5 and finish a drink with a dehydrated human toe in it. Since 1973, it’s estimated that over 60,000 have finished the drink, which is amazing, considering the whole of Yukon has a population of under 34,000.

In August 2013, a customer intentionally swallowed the sour toe and immediately paid the $500 fine for swallowing it. Since the tradition began, more than eight toes have been swallowed or simply gone missing, but the saloon has always managed to find a replacement toe. At the saloon, one rule has remained the same: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow—but the lips have gotta touch the toe.

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