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The drink
The Iranian in me kicks in at the pub


October 4, 2005

Will asks for a pint. (I only offered out of politeness -- colleague from another floor; but fine -- he wants one, I’ll buy.) He thanks me and places the cold bottle of Holsten Pils under his jacket on the panel in front of which he stands, and I notice he’s already holding one, and it ain’t empty.

We make polite chitchat. Sonia, his editor, arrives. “Like a drink?” he says. “Love one,” she replies. Will reaches behind himself and offers her the drink I have just bought him. Now, Will is a nice guy, like me, of sub-editor stock -- sub-editors tend to like each other. He impressed me some years back by knowing that many of Public Enemy’s lyrics were penned by Hank Shocklee and not Chuck D. But I never knew he’d have the power to shock me.

Upstairs, Dazza, a reporter on the magazine I’m working on (and ever the rock) hears me out.

“Make him buy you one,” he says. How, Daz? “Say you’d like a drink.”

The Iranian in me kicks in -- the point is not dough. I don’t care about the money. (Well I evidently do, because I’m miffed.) I offered to buy him a pint, not his boss. It has happened before: two pints lined up to be drunk by one person, who is already holding a half, for fear of missing out on a round. But Will had his lined up for someone else!

Get him to buy you one, says Daz.

There is no way I could suggest a tit-for-tat buy. But Daz says it’s perfectly acceptable to tell someone to buy you a pint that they ‘owe’ you. Owe?

Rounds are a social contract: buy one, expect to have one bought; accept one, and don’t leave the pub without offering one back. It’s a practice started by workers on their way home from the factories early last century. They would curse managers over a comforting pint and there would always be one who would wriggle out of buying, while drinking more than his fair share.

Among Iranian friends it is perfectly possible to buy two rounds in a row. Not that we like to spend money any more than the English. Indeed there are times we don’t want to pay but do for fear of being perceived as socially inadequate.

Will appeared to be chancing it. Pride prevented me from asking him to buy me a drink (I’d only planned to have one in the first place) so I plucked up my courage, took a few deep breaths and went downstairs. I thought it would be rude to go down just for the purpose of securing a beverage, so I pretended to go to the loo.

When I was a student in Cardiff, in the nineties, I was vying for the attention of a woman in a bar with a man who looked forty. The woman was, to my disappointment, more into him than me. As a consoling gesture, the older chap offered to buy me a drink. I politely refused. Being a student (and a proud one at that), I didn’t accept. He asked me if I was Iranian. The same thing had happened to him in Singapore, he said -- an Iranian man declined his offer of a drink. For all I knew this guy travelled the world undercutting Iranian men and then buying them a drink.

I stepped out of the toilet. There was only one way to equalize without losing face. I plucked up my courage as if I were about to ask him on a date and stepped up.

“Will, you know Daz?”

“Yes,” he replied.

 “Could you get him a pint for us -- I owe him one.”

“Sure,” he said, as if I’d asked the most natural thing.

For letters section
To Peyvand Khorsandi

Peyvand Khorsandi



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