Another Glass

Chloe Bash - Ecuador

November 21, 2012

The clear plastic cup is filled halfway with golden liquid then passed down the line of chairs or around the standing group. The recipient, stranger or friend, nods in thanks, blows the foam onto the floor, and finishes the glass in two quick gulps. He or she throws the remaining foam on the floor with a flick of the wrist, then hands the cup back to begin the process again.

From the bottle to the glass, beer here is meant to be shared. The watery Pilsener comes in 600 mL bottles, about 2 ½ cups, rather than individual bottles or cans, and the glass it is served in is surprisingly small, a mere half cup, for the size of the container. Rather than buying and nursing pints, people are expected to purchase and pour for a group.

When I first arrived in La Abundancia I admired the way beer is served here. I saw it as another example of the generosity I had experienced so frequently in this community. But the allure of the single cup has since been tempered by my observation of the accompanying traditions.

What the beer lacks in strength, it makes up for in volume. Pilsener is purchased and consumed by the case. I watched, horrified and fascinated, as a group of seven teenagers finished twelve bottles in the course of an hour. Beer was repeatedly thrust into the hands of one boy, who I knew to be fifteen, even after he had nervously refused. “Just one more, just one more,” they chorused, until he had to be propped up in his chair by his laughing friend. The peer pressure might be no different than that experienced at a high school party, but the location is distinct. Teenagers aren’t just drinking at house parties when their parents are gone: during the town dances, they are drinking in the streets.

The laughing friend, the nonchalant recognition of another’s drunkenness, is present among adults and youth alike. I was asked to dance during the Fiestas de Fundacion by a man old enough to be my grandfather and, seeing no harm in it, accepted. Only when we had began to shuffle to a Cumbia number did I realize he was drunk. While stepping backwards he stumbled heavily and fell to the concrete, hitting his head as he landed. I was frozen where I stood, unsure what to do, when a boy standing nearby shooed me away. “No te precupes,” he called, smiling. “Don’t worry about it.”

Both instances occurred in the public sphere, under the eyes of many. Perhaps public drinking is safer. Parents watch their children, friends take care of each other, and members of the community can intervene in the case of emergency. I wonder, however, if the public drunkenness I have seen here normalizes unhealthy consumption, especially for teenagers.

When beer is offered so freely and publicly it is easy to say, “Yes,” too many times. I can’t change the dangerous generosity that defines the drinking culture of my town, but perhaps my own behavior can serve as an example for my friends. I am a teenager, just like them, but I am the product of a different education in regards to alcohol, one that emphasizes responsibility and safety. I hope that I can provide a model of another option while continuing to observe and learn from the town’s traditions.

Chloe Bash