Thursday 24 January 2019

Time for a bottle of wine?

During the recent festive break, some people with nothing better to do were circulating this statistical graphic. It purports to show the amount of time which various nations spend eating and drinking each day. Other people with nothing better to do, like me, were drawn to consider it.

The French come top, sustaining every cliché there is, spending 2hrs 11mins a day eating and drinking. The average is 1hr 31mins. And we Brits come two-thirds of the way down the list, spending 1hr 18mins a day eating and drinking.

(The US come bottom, with just 1hr 2mins. Well, they did invent fast food.)

But this cannot be drinking as you and I know it. Well, as I know it.

In the corner of the graphic, two little stick people are sitting down at a table eating and drinking together with a bottle of something. They could be in a café, or they could be in their IKEA home, at their Guzla table. Either way, it’s a nice scene for anyone, let alone the stick people, who are generally only seen running for a fire exit.

And there are indeed times when Mrs K and I sit together to eat and drink, just like the stick people. That is proper “eating and drinking”, whether at home or in a restaurant. But how much of our eating, let alone drinking, do any of us actually do like that?

I assume, for instance, that the statisticians are not including things like eating on the go, where one’s primary activity is not eating but, er, going. Or people who are simultaneously working. Some office workers eat at their desk – something we may call “al desko”. (Some people eat on underground trains – something we may call “disgusting”.)

People have to eat at their desk, not because they haven’t got time to go to a café, but because the cafés are occupied by people on their laptops. So the cafés are full of people working, while the offices are full of people eating and drinking. Who’d be a statistician, eh? 

And then there’s drinking. Let’s suppose that while my meal is cooking, I open my bottle of accompanying wine in readiness. I taste it, of course, to make sure it’s okay. It’s jolly nice, thank you for asking. I may well sip a little more, just to while away the time while the pot I’m watching doesn’t boil. Is that drinking? Has my 1hr 18mins begun?

After the meal, I carry my unfinished glass of wine into the lounge and switch on the TV. Is my clock still ticking? Am I still “drinking” while I am enhancing my knowledge with an accomplished historian.

Presumably not. These statisticians must surely have ignored any drinking which takes place while also reading, listening to music, watching television, or musing upon the king my brother’s wreck. Because if they counted any of that as “drinking”, surely many of us will spend more than 1hr 18mins drinking wine beyond any meal itself?

Perhaps what they’re describing is limited to that period when one is both eating and drinking? Whether that ropes in nibbling olives with a glass of white beforehand, or dunking cantuccini in Vin Santo afterwards, I cannot say or guess. But it seems a very narrow interpretation of “drinking” to me.

And it would probably eliminate that clichéd Frenchman, who is sitting in a café for an hour with a glass of wine, but to a statistician is classed as “reading the newspaper” – or, in that definition beloved by travellers, “watching the world go by”.

Still, it does mean that the next time I am accused of “spending the rest of the evening sitting there drinking”, I can now deny it. Because excuse me, as far as statistics are concerned, I have clearly not.


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