a square’s thought on rounds

Lately, I’ve been going out sometimes with people from England. It’s customary in Britain and other colonies to buy rounds of drinks for the entire group. Members of the group are expected to eventually reciprocate with their own rounds.

While you might see Americans take part in this behavior once in a while, the British take it more seriously. I’ve had Englishmen insist on buying a round while we were on the dance floor, well outside the conventional setting of a pub table, where I suppose the name “round” comes from.

On the positive side, rounds can play a part in solidifying trust and friendship in a group socializing together. When everyone drinks together, it’s less likely that somebody stays sober by themselves, or conversely gets drunk by themselves. Much like a road trip, it’s more fun with company. Sharing the journey is just as important as the destination.

But there are two substantial negatives for me.

  1. Rounds are not amenable to variations in tolerance, for example between women and men. They also can’t accommodate somebody who perhaps already started drinking.
  2. It’s harder to control how much to drink. For me at least, my sweet-spot is fairly narrow. It’s not likely that the number of drinks I want happens to be divisible by the size of the group. Or that I maintain the right buzz at the same rate as my rather experienced English counterparts.

Rounds seem to always push participants to drink more than they would otherwise. It’s probably both a cause and an effect of British binge drinking culture. When I witnessed binge drinking on US college campuses, it seemed to be more motivated by a competitive spirit than the communal, merry march. (Thus the lone sleeper covered in highlighter).

Personally, I’ll try to relegate rounds to contexts where drinking is the raison d’être of the experience. At nightclubs, it’s an expensive way to lose one’s social aptitude and interest in the music.

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