Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Price of Beer

What is it about the Price of Beer that makes it an universal ice-breaker?

I've lived in three countries in the last three years and have found myself many a time in the mixedest of groups-- with friends from Lebanon, England, Peru, Germany, Iceland, Australia, Japan, India, Denmark and many other nations one of my favorite pastimes has become 'the observation of small talk.' What I noticed, however, was that this pastime quickly became instead 'the observation of the ice-breaker called The Price of Beer.' It usually occurs in groups of three or more, and goes something like this:

Hey Max! This is my friend Kjarten from Iceland.
Whoa man, I hear beer over there is really expensive; is that true?
Yeah, man, it's rough. But dude, you have to pay in POUNDS over here-- that is almost as bad.

And then, and I am often astounded at how unaware of how incredibly nerdy this can get, there ensues an entire discussion about currency exchange, the cornerstone of which is The Price of Beer.

So, if a pint in London costs about 3pounds, and last month I was getting .67pounds to the euro, then that would be like 4euros50 per pint?
Yeah, that's awful. You really have to go to Latin America or Africa, man.
Oh yeah! I'm going to South Africa next month.
Hey guys.
Oh hey-- we were just talking about South Africa.
Oh cool! I've been there-- beer is totally cheap there.
Yeah, well not as cheap as it is in Peru-- I got three huge bottles of Arequipena for 10nuevos soles because the guy at the hotel totally had a deal with the shop on the corner-- that's like a dollar a bottle and a bottle was like three pints... three pints for a dollar! And it is good beer too!

No way, you can't get a good English Ale or Stout for that though. I mean you can't even get it there at all, but you can get something like that at this great little place I know in Brooklyn-- you have to know where to go though. It's totally a locals only deal and you have to know exactly where it is because it is impossible to find. It's in the basement of this old warehouse and you would never know it-- but once you get inside it is all dark wood paneling and old casks and a huge long wooden bar with about a zillion micro-brews on tap...
Yeah, but those places close at like 2am. That's the problem with Pubs in London too though-- most of them close at 11pm. But when I go out with this one friend of mine, we go near Picidilly Square, and he totally knows all the crazy signs that the cab drivers leave outside random 24hr shops-- one time he walked into one of these places and asked for the owner. When the guy up front said he wasn't there, my friend walked to the back of the place, knelt down and knocked on the floor. A little trap door to a cellar popped up-- my friend passed a tenner through the door and someone passed a six-pack up to him! It was amazing! And dude, a tenner for a six pack in London is pretty good. I mean, it's better if you can get to Paris on the Eurostar, since the pound is so strong now, it's way better to use Euros, but really if you take into account the cost of living then the Price of Beer really is about the same probably...

These conversations can go on for hours.
The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing, I have ever seen able to stop one mid-one-upping is a quick switch to soccer talk. The only thing more universally discussed that the Price of Beer? The World Cup. But that, of course, can go both ways...