It sounds like the beginning of a joke. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t drink. I have never had a sip of alcohol in my life and I never intend to drink alcohol. It’s a personal choice, but one I believe in strongly. So, why then, would I walk into a bar?
The answer is quite simple. A group of international students invited me. In France, it is common for students to go out on a Friday or Saturday night to a bar. On the weekdays, these students go to cafés to sit and talk. Since it was a Saturday night and I am trying to be as active as possible, I went. We met at the tram stop downtown and discussed what we wanted to do.
The Belgians who study law (there were about four Belgians who are in France to study law) suggested a bar that serves…Belgian beer – what else would they suggest? The group I was with consisted of about twelve individuals from Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, France, and, of course, yours truly, the American. There was another American there as well. She is studying abroad through the same ISEP agreement and we live in the same dorm.
So, I walked into this bar. The first thing I noticed was the heat. It was extremely hot in the bar compared to the cool January night. The bar was small, but evidently popular. There were a good number of people crammed into the small space, include several other Americans studying through the ISEP program. As I sat down at a table (which we had some difficult ascertaining as there were a large number of people at the bar), I was a little nervous.
Travelling to Italy for the faculty-led trip my freshman year, I was consistently asked (and, to a point, I would say harassed) about my decision not to drink. It wasn’t just students. I was asked by adults constantly about my decision not to drink. I toyed with the idea of lying. I thought about saying it was due to religion (since some religions do not allow for the consumption of alcohol) or that I was allergic (is that possible?). But I don’t like to lie. So, I answered honestly. It is a personal choice. This answer, on the Italy trip, was not sufficient for some peers and adults. At every opportunity, they questioned my decision. I never questioned their decision to drink and I expected the same respect. I did not receive that respect and was quite miserable trying to defend my choices. So, walking into a bar in France was a nerve-wracking experience. I sat down at the table and expected everyone to ask me why I wasn’t drinking.
But they didn’t. Not a single person commented on my decision not to drink. If anyone thought it was strange, they didn’t comment. I was surprised and greatly relieved. The students were extremely respectful. I have never “gone out” in America so I can’t make an accurate comparison of bar experiences in France and America. However, I have lived in the Honors Hall at WVU, which is located on Grant Street (a street in Morgantown which is notorious for partying, excessive drinking and bad life decisions in general). Walking back to the Honors Hall at night, I have seen American students get drunk and go crazy. To be fair, I did see some students in Nantes like that, but, in general, drinking is a social and controlled event in France.
For several hours, we discussed our lives back home. We talked about the languages we knew and the cultural aspects of our countries. As I mentioned before, the students were extremely respectful and very friendly. We talked about the difficulties of living in France and of trying to integrate into French society. It was an intellectual conversation which was amusing and informative.
However, I get tired easily and I had to take the tram back to my dorm. So, before the stroke of midnight (okay, okay, it was more like at 11 PM, but still – it was late!), my American friend and I returned back to our dorm. We were the first to leave and I was very sad to leave the company of some amazing individuals. But my bed was calling me…
So, I slept.