Made in Macao | Drinking culture in Macao

Jenny Lao-Phillips

The drinking culture of a place shows a lot about the tradition and social life of that place. For the Portuguese, it is customary to have wine during dinner or even lunch, whether it be a social meal, a business meal, or a family meal. Wine is a part of a Portuguese meal, and the Portuguese drink slowly in a relaxed way, pairing the right wine with the right food, making the meal a time to enjoy and chat casually.

For the mainland Chinese, social dinners are often served with wine or beer too nowadays, or for business meals, the super strong Chinese white wine. During these meals, the hosts often clink glasses with their guests, and the meals turn into a drinking contest. One who doesn’t drink loses face in this kind of situation. Whether drinking calmly or chugging down alcohol like water, both Portuguese and Chinese culture seem to include alcoholic drinks as part of a dinner.

For the Portuguese, having a cold refreshing beer in the late afternoon, or continuing conversations at dinner with drinks are usual. Though in the mainland, most people at the table are usually drunk after a social dinner, there is a practice of going to karaoke to continue drinking and singing or sometimes dancing. In a place where the tradition is a combination of Chinese and Portuguese, it may be surprising to find that most local citizens in Macao do not drink.

It is unusual to see local Chinese, especially from my generation, ordering wine or beer during meals. In fact, if someone invites you for a drink at night, they can mean going for a Taiwanese Pearl Milk Tea or a juice at the Fruitarian Café. I was surprised to learn from a few acquaintances during a pilgrimage trip to Fatima that they had never drank at meals before. In fact, they seldom drank on any occasion, and drank more than they ever did on the two-week trip to Portugal and Spain.

However, the drinking culture in Macao is changing a bit nowadays. With more exposure to different cultures through travel, and the increasing number of shops selling wines from different countries organizing wine tasting and other events, the social acceptability of drinking has increased.  But what contributed most to the drinking culture in Macao is the Happy Hour tradition. In the last ten years, almost all bars have started offering special offers for drinks after work. This has caused large number of office workers to gather after work to socialize. In fact, I believe this Happy Hour tradition has had a direct effect on enhancing collegiality by bringing office discussion into a different venue. In some cases, unsolvable problems from the office are solved in a bar.

What is interesting observing the Macao drinking culture is that with years and years of influence from both Portuguese and Chinese traditions, we have not adopted the drinking culture from either. Not even with the very low-cost Portuguese wine we can buy in Macao thanks to tax free trade. Yet, in the short intervening years, Happy Hour has become part of our normal social life. What does this imply?

In all likelihood, we are not made for the relaxing lifestyle of food and entertainment like the Portuguese. And our stomach is not strong enough for the face-gaining culture of drinking like fish as our brothers from the mainland do. But, Happy Hour, a very Anglo-Saxon concept, quickly got us to adapt to drinking, perhaps because it is a more interesting continuation of the work time. Perhaps it is a sign that work is taking over our lives, and after work Happy Hour is just a happier way to continue work.

Categories Opinion