Sobering Reality

  • 2007-08-01

Illustration: Jevgenijs Cheksters

In the Baltics, it seems, drinking is a way of life. Nearly everyone over the age of 15 imbibes to one extent or another, be it sipping a glass of chardonnay at a gallery opening or going out for a raucous night at the bars. For the most part, it's all just relaxing fun, and if that fun comes with the price tag of hangovers and weight gain 's to say nothing of embarrassing romantic overtures 's then so be it. We're all adults and we're responsible for our own actions.

Occasionally, however, that kind of "fun" crosses the line into something downright ugly. On a recent weekend, TBT employees in Tallinn had, within the space of 24 hours, two close encounters of the drunk kind that made us rethink this city's relationship with booze.

The first happened in a quiet cafe 's or rather a cafe that had been quiet up until the moment two absolutely besotted characters stumbled in, ordered drinks and began their mission to bother every single customer in the place. In addition to the stereotypical shouting and table-banging, the pair decided they needed to grab some of the cafe's female clients, and of course became aggressive when the women fled to other tables.
As annoying as the drunks' behavior was, the more exasperating part of the scene was the reaction of the staff. Instead of booting Tweedledee and Tweedledum out on their well-numbed behinds, they continued to serve them drinks as if nothing was wrong, thereby putting themselves, everyone else, and the drunks themselves at risk. For their part, the customers put their heads down and pretended to ignore the situation. Ironically the only one who had enough moxie to tell the dynamic duo to leave was half in the bag himself.
The second run-in followed the same pattern, though this time it was on a tram. When three completely hammered young men started shouting, running around and bothering passengers, everyone's attitude was the same: boys will be boys. Ignore them, they'll go away.

On Aug. 1 a new law came into effect that prohibits the sale of alcohol in shops after 8 p.m. The new regulation is supposed to cut down on alcoholism and public drunkenness, and it could even result in some of its intended effect. It would not, however, have had any effect on the drunks we met with over the weekend. They proved that if someone wants a drink, they can always go to a bar and will be served no matter what their condition. And if they're die-hard boozers like our tipsy tramsters, they will be buying their bottles in the morning to get sloshed by noon.

In fact, the only proven effect of an alcohol sales ban came in May after the Bronze Soldier riots, when a temporary ban on alcohol sales after 2 p.m. prompted Finns to cancel their alcohol buying trips by the droves. The after-eight booze ban might not put such a profound dent in tourism, but it will no doubt annoy the vodka shoppers and inconvenience us relatively responsible drinkers.

If  Tallinn and its residents really want to do something about alcoholics and the dangerously drunk they should adopt a no-tolerance policy toward them. Bartenders should refuse to serve them, cafes should ask them to leave, and the general public should drop their "boys will be boys" mentality. Passing more annoying laws, on the other hand, is nothing but an exercise in naive optimism.