Bar Codes; Pt 3 – Buying Rounds and Gifting

This continues my series/obsession with bar etiquette and whether there are different rules for men and women at bars.

Having grown up in a Dutch Calvinist community of tea totalers even though my parents did go out for cocktails (shhhh!!!!), I did not have the Frank McCourt experience of dragging Da’  home from the bars, so my experience with them came as an adult.  My experience as a woman sitting at a bar by myself started when I moved from New York City to a Montana county the size of Rhode Island with a population of 3500.   The bar in these small places serves as sort of a club.  The American Legion bar is actually the American Legion Club and there is a new saloon in a space that used to be the Moose Lodge.  The B& B in town has a real chef and a renowned restaurant and award winning wine list.  It’s bar area with booths is a kind of club for the merchant class, but everybody goes there to dine because it has good food including one of the best burgers around. It also has only one TV so it is the only bar in town that isn’t a sports bar.  Rumor has it they may put in another TV.  That has caused some consternation since the tipping point into sportsbardom seems to be two TVs.  But that’s another story.

Buying rounds of drinks is a ritual in many bars in many towns, but our town is quite notorious for this ritual.  I have always watched with amusement the men buying a round of beers for each other.  One guy buys a round for the four guys with whom he is talking to at the bar.  Then the next guy buys a round.  Then the third and then the fourth.  Sometimes they come so fast that the guys have at least two beers in front of them.  So no one is buying somebody a beer since it all evens out.  If you want to leave early, you just say, “No more for me, but buy another round for me mates.  Gar. Gar. Gar.”   Nobody owes nobody nuthin’.

Made no sense to me.  It’s not a treat or a gift if it is even. And I began to notice that women don’t do  this.  Women buy their own drinks.  What they may do is order an appetizer and then ask if people next to her want to share.  If a woman is part of the group that a man is buying rounds for, she thanks him.  She does not then buy a round for everybody in the drinking circle.

What I have done is bring in a bottle of barbecue sauce that I ordered on line and received too many bottles of it and given it to John who has bought me the occasional drink.  What I did the other night was just thank Dan for the drink he bought me.  No reciprocity.  The next night was New Year’s Eve.  I bought a bottle of good champagne and gave glasses to a couple people including Dan.

I’ve been practicing this whole “gifting” thing for years.  I had a group of friends in New York City who, like me, were struggling artists.  We loved to find some little gadget or piece of clothing that was unique or would make us laugh and give it for no reason at all.  Whether this can work on a larger scale as part of a modern gift economy, I really don’t know.  I read a forum on this topic over at libcom.org.  Seems that thinkers for many years have wondered about a different kind of social economy other than capitalism with its organization that is hierarchical and exchange oriented.  And those thinkers often talk in terms of gifting rather than the exact exchange of commodities.

Is it coincidental that women practice sharing rather than exchange as a means of communal eating and drinking?  Just askin’.

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