Pubs: they're a staple of British life, almost to the point of cliche. Celebrating? Go to the pub! Commiserating? Go to the pub! Wiling away the hours on a Tuesday night because you have a mild alcohol dependency to sustain and absolutely nothing else to do with your life? To the pub!
Having reached an age where "outside McDonald's" is no longer a viable hangout spot – and not yet old enough to spend my free time feeding ducks and writing angry letters to people who couldn't care less – my social life largely consists of going to pubs. And that would be fine, if it wasn't for the fact that I'm a Muslim – a religion that not only prohibits drinking, but also even being in the same place as alcohol.
For the majority of Muslims – even those who smoke weed, go to clubs and have sex – alcohol still remains one of those taboos you can't quite shake off. Which makes going to pubs a weird, awkward and, in some cases, even slightly traumatising experience. So here's what I've learnt about what happens when you go to a pub and just happen to also be a Muslim.
PEOPLE ALWAYS COMPARE YOU TO THE MUSLIM FAMILY FROM EASTENDERS
The first time I went to a pub was when I was 17, which was also the same kind of time that the Masood family started appearing on Eastenders. Like all brown families on Eastenders (and no real Muslim families in east London), the Masoods drank and socialised in the Old Vic. Despite this having absolutely no grounding in reality, they were immediately the benchmark of every brown person's experience in a pub. And, for me, that brought with it another consequence: constantly being compared to Tamwar Masood, the awkward, bespectacled, cardigan-wearing Asian guy I went to the pub for precisely not to be compared to.
"You're just like that Asian bloke from Eastenders," I have been told on several occasions, purely because I am Asian and sitting on a pub stool. On other occasions, the Masood family have been used as a case study by my white mates as to why it's OK to drink. "Don't worry, you can drink – that Asian kid on Eastenders drinks all the time," says my friend, Dave, regularly.
IT FEELS REALLY WEIRD TO ASK A BARTENDER FOR A PINT OF WATER
Pubs are huge on alcohol. It's their special little thing, and they like to let people know about it by putting signs with big photos of pints on them outside, or suggesting via a blackboard behind the bar that you try their guest IPA, which always has some sort of terrible dad-joke name like Randy Badger or Hoppy Bastard. For non-alcohol drinkers, this presents a problem; in most pubs – bar the fancy ones with juice machines and J2O – your options are usually limited to: orange juice, water, flat Coke out of a tap or a some locally-made lemonade thing that tastes like watered down drain cleaner.
I tend to go for the blander – but certainly more practical – choice of water. Thing is, ordering a pint of water is more of a nightmare than you'd expect. First, you must wait in line for up to 20 minutes as other people buy actual drinks. Then, squeezed between impatient punters, grab the bartender's attention and mumble: "A pint of water please."
"And what else?"
"Oh, just the water please."
The bartender sighs, filling a pint glass with tepid water from the tap. "That's £15," he jokes, spitefully. You let out an awkward laugh, spill some of the water down your shirt and shuffle back to your table. And repeat, ad infinitum.
BUYING A ROUND IS MORE CHALLENGING THAN YOU'D THINK
You may be surprised to know that, as a lifelong Muslim, I know next to nothing about alcohol, which makes abiding by pub etiquette an extremely daunting task. "Who's buying the next round then?" asks Dave, looking directly at me.
"Umm – me, I guess," I mumble, as everyone fires their orders at me. These orders, however, are not just "a beer", but a specific type of lager, or a combination of liquids: a mixer and a spirit, but the spirit has to be the specific one they asked for because, apparently, after six rum and cokes, their palette is still alert enough to discern between Bacardi and Captain Morgan.
You might think, 'You've just got a shit memory, mate.' But imagine if these brand names and drinks weren't a common part of your everyday vocabulary. If, as they are for me, they might as well be words from the travel section of a Key Stage Three French textbook. I think I might just have to start making voice memos.
YOU'RE ALWAYS SCARED YOUR MUM WILL FIND OUT
Growing up in a Muslim household, the pub is generally the trope used to illustrate the dangers of decadence in sin. "See that fight outside the takeaway?" my dad will ask. "They probably got pissed first down the pub." How about that couple noshing each other's faces off next to a puddle of sick? Yup, they probably also got hammered down the pub. Or that guy having a shit in an alleyway? I highly suspect it had something to do with the pub.
In fact, according to your Muslim parents, going to the pub will not just distract you from your religion, but also bring shame on your family. It'll stop you from getting married. People will recoil from you aggressively when you go to the mosque. And worse, your dad will no longer be invited to play in the mosque's cricket league.
YOU'RE EVEN MORE SCARED YOUR COUSIN ABDUL WILL FIND OUT
The only worse scenario is that you cousin Abdul discovers you've been relaxing in this house of sin. Every Muslim has a cousin like Abdul; he went to religious school with you, grew a longer beard than you did and tends to bombard your Facebook timeline with quotes about sin and the hellfire. You don't speak much to Abdul, but somehow he knows about literally everything you do.
Remember that time you uploaded a picture of you and your female friends to Facebook? "Brother, you shouldn't be free mixing with women who are uncovered," said Abdul, instantly, popping up in your Facebook messages, before inundating you with various links to stories about how going to parties leads directly to hell.
Abdul's also close to your dad. Upon hearing that you went to a pub, he'll find your dad at the mosque and tell him he's concerned that you've gone astray, and that you're probably "smoking drugs" and spending money on prostitutes. "Just check his Facebook," Abdul will say. And his intervention will work: until you've moved out and put a bit of distance between yourself and you dad's weaponised slipper, you'll never step foot in a pub again.