Barbecue Laws

An interesting excerpt from the (excellent) book Willpower by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney:

In nineteenth-century America […] there was a social convention called the “barbecue law,” which meant that all the men who gathered for a barbecue were expected to drink until they were soused. To refuse a drink entailed a serious insult to the host and the rest of the party.

Now, if you have been following my writings on TFA for a while, you know already that I’m not exactly an opponent to the occasional drink. More precisely, I used to be a rum collector when I still had an apartment and a good spirit can normally be found somewhere in my luggage, ready to celebrate with friends whenever I meet (or make) them.

(Time for a tangent: I already told you about the German proverb which says that you should celebrate the feasts as they come. I’m a huge believer in this. Really great parties are rarely planned and much more often simply turn up “like that”. This makes me think that the old pagan gods of wine and merriness probably do exist.

I remember once, when I was in Rome, a friend of mine and I went to an ice cream parlor near Fontana di Trevi in search for a restroom. The owners weren’t eager to lend their facilities to non-customers, so we ordered two beers and off we ran to the bathroom.

When we came back we started to joke with them about the location of their business and the funny experiences they had made with tourists over the years. When they found out that we were Germans, they immediately started to ask us about the Love Parade. (This episode happened back in the late 90s, so Love Parade was still existent and en vogue at the time.)

As it turns out, the guys were huge techno fans – and my friend was a semi-professional DJ who also happened to carry a couple of DJ sets from that year’s “Abschlusskundgebung,” the Love Parade’s great finale. Memories are blurry, but it didn’t take the owners more than five minutes to close the parlor down, open the bar and get that tape playing. We spent several hours there, drinking, repeatedly listening to the sets, talking a hodgepodge of German, English and Italian, dancing and joking around. When we finally left, daylight was already approaching at the Eastern skies.

Now, before I totally lose my tangent, let’s sum it up: While I didn’t travel with booze back then and the real clou of this story was without doubt the Love Parade tape my friend brought along, making new friends and celebrating whenever we get the chance to definitely is a good thing to do. End of tangent.)

Now, back to the main topic: “Barbecue Laws.”

I probably lost all my credibility somewhere between the words “rum collector” and “I spent several hours drinking in an Italian ice cream parlor”.


Starting to drink just because of some social convention is something I have done at several points in my life. At barbecues and at other places. But: It’s also something I’m happy to do less now than I did in the past. Why that? Well, probably because drinking just to follow some social convention strikes me as extraordinarily silly.

Consequently, breaking this “barbecue law” sounds like a good idea.

But then, of course, there’s another notion to it that I cannot ignore here on TFA. Because socially enforced drinking isn’t the only social convention that’s extraordinarily silly, is it?

Actually, I worry there are many, many other “barbecue laws” nowadays.

And I personally prefer to break at least some of them.

Like the law to buy tons of useless stuff to give away for Christmas. (Another tangent, but let’s make this shorter: If I don’t stumble on something that seems like a great fit for a loved person, I’ll simply buy food. And, ahem, drinks. Everybody likes good food and good drinks, they don’t occupy storage space in your apartment (at least not for a long time), and if you don’t like them you can easily give them away without anybody noticing. A perfect gift, as far as I am concerned.)

Or the law to overeat during holiday season only to go on a diet later on. (Really, isn’t this weird? I mean, the dark winters in the Northern hemisphere certainly suck, but is binge-eating the best answer to that? Better get a flight to the Tropics!)

Or how about the “barbecuest ((Grammar police will shoot me. Barbecue, barbecuer, barbecuest.)) law” of all: The law to get up at 7am, board a loud and stinking car by 8, drive to an ugly glass-and-concrete building and sit down at some desk by 9, only to do senseless busywork until the clock hits 5pm.

Really, let’s find a loophole for these laws! Let’s start accepting the invitations to the barbecue (if we’re fine with them), but let’s keep the booze out of the game if we don’t feel like drinking. Or the hollow Christmas gifts. The binge-eating. The busywork.

“Barbecue laws” are both legally and morally superfluous.
Let’s break them and replace them with something better.

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