This week's topic isn't really a question, but I thought it would be an interesting subject for discussion:
It seems that a lot of people in my field consider drinking beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages an essential part of being an academic. Sometimes at professional meetings during the social hour, beer and wine are the only things available to drink. Groups in my department or at meetings commonly meet in the pub for informal discussions, and so on.
I don't like to drink -- even a little bit makes me feel sick -- but I am comfortable around people who are drinking, and don't disapprove of it at all. Unfortunately, some, maybe even most, people who are drinking are not comfortable around me. When I order a soft drink at a pub, or drink nothing at a wine-only professional society event, I am almost always confronted about it and insulted. Examples, not counting the "Are you pregnant?" question (apparently the only acceptable reason for an adult female not to drink): "Grow up" (said by my department chair!!), "Are you an alcoholic or something?", "Are you too uptight to drink?", "If you don't drink, you should leave". I am a friendly person and would like to enjoy these professional/social events, but I am often made to feel unwelcome.
I should say that of course not everyone is strange and mean about my not drinking. There are some people who have given me a chance, and then tell others that although I don't drink, it's fun to go to the pub with me because I can talk and laugh and argue even without drinking beer. That's nice, but it is sad that so many people think they need alcohol to have a good conversation.
For a long time, I've worried that my not drinking will have a negative effect on my career. I have been at professional dinners where drinking wine was considered an essential part of the experience for everyone, so I have a large repertoire of excuses, from honest ("I just don't like to drink; it makes me feel ill", although that is kind of a downer) to outright lying ("I really wish I could, but I've got some important work to do after this dinner."). Sometimes I don't say anything, I signal the server to just put a bit of wine in my glass, and then I pretend to sip at it during the meal. That doesn't really fool anyone, but at least it puts off a direct conversations about my not drinking.
I feel like I spend a lot of time accommodating the drinkers so that they won't dislike me and exclude me from professional events. This is kind of pathetic, but I don't know what else to do. For example, when the cost of a dinner is split among a group, I never mention that I didn't have any wine or beer, even though this often makes my share of the cost of the meal significantly more than it would be if alcoholic beverages were figured separately.
Anyway, this isn't really a question, more just an expression of anxiety. I really don't need it explained to me why people who are drinking are uncomfortable around people who aren't, but I wish it weren't such a big deal and I wish I didn't have to worry about it negatively affecting my career.
I would go to the pub with you, and we could order a pitcher of a caffeine-laden soft drink and get a little wild and crazy arguing about Science (or whatever). It might not seem like it at times, but there are other non-drinkers in academia, and it is possible to succeed, even in a culture that values the wine-soaked social functions at conferences.
I agree that it is unfair and irrational to expect every adult to want to drink beer, wine etc. at all professional/social events like job interview dinners, professional society events etc. Aside from pregnancy, there are other health issues, religious reasons, and personal preferences for not-drinking, and this should be taken into account when planning any professional event. There should always be an alternative for the non-drinkers in a group, and no one should have to explain why they aren't drinking.
Perhaps some commenters will have suggestions for new additions to the repertoire of Why I Am Not Drinking explanations, to be hauled out when someone is inevitably confronted with questions in socio-professional settings.
It is unlikely that there will ever be an end to the annoying comments from others about those who are not drinking wine etc., but perhaps it will cheer up the non-drinkers to hear one small anecdote that happened to me at a conference years ago. I had just arrived late at a socio-professional event at the conference, and stopped to talk to a group of people, including one of the organizers of the event. I didn't know him and he didn't know me, though I recognized his name as an applicant for an open faculty position in my department; I was on the search committee. I asked him if there was anything besides beer to drink, and he said, loudly, "If you don't like beer, you should get out of here", smirk-sneered, then turned his back on me.
Not long after that conference, he was sitting in my office for a one-on-one meeting during his interview. I tried to be nice and objective and all that, but he was clearly very uncomfortable talking to me. Fortunately, I didn't have to work too hard to be objective about him because no one liked him, and, by the end of his interview, he wasn't considered a viable candidate for the job.
Of course he should have been more polite whether or not I was on the search committee, and whether or not I wanted to drink a beer at the conference event, but I hope that incident put an end to his "drink or get out" mindset.
I am hoping that there will be comments that help assuage the anxiety of the non-drinking academic, but it would also be useful to hear from those who admit to being uncomfortable around non-drinkers: why is that? what can you and the non-drinkers of the world do to get past that discomfort in professional situations?