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Travel around the world during Zoom happy hours with these global drinking traditions


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One of the few silver linings of the coronavirus pandemic is that being forced apart has brought some people closer together. People are video chatting to reconnect with old friends from school, reunite with distant relatives and even go on dates.

Catching up over screen time might not be everyone’s favorite way to communicate, but for some people like myself, it’s the only way to have meaningful contact with the outside world. For the last couple months, I’ve found solace online, having regular video calls with friends to catch up, gossip, play games and drink together.

That last pastime, when done in moderation, can be as fun over Zoom as it is in person. To add an edge to your virtual happy hour and re-create the experience of traveling abroad, here are some international drinking traditions that you can incorporate next time you log on.

Sip mezcal with snacks like you’re in Oaxaca.

There is nothing like watching the sun set over the purple mountains of southern Mexico while drinking mezcal at the source. However, you can incorporate elements of that magic at home pretty easily. You’ll need a bottle of mezcal, oranges, salt and your friends.

“The tradition of pairing slow, long sips of mezcal with small bites is one that has always been ingrained in our drinking culture in Mexico as a way to not only exist, but also converse and truly enjoy our simple pleasures,” said Camille Austin, the director of advocacy for Casa Lumbre, a Mexican spirits company that makes Montelobos mezcal, over email.

She explained that in regions like Oaxaca, it’s common for orange slices or other local fruits to be paired handcrafted chile salts, often containing local insects.

Austin is also a fan of pairing mezcal with tomato slices, avocado leaf and hibiscus salts.

Cheers like you’re in Scandinavia.

Mostly stuck at home, we’re hungrier for human connection now more than ever. Since welcome eye contact can deliver stimulating, prosocial benefits, consider getting some more in through Swedish toasting traditions.

In her book “The Swedish Table,” Helene Henderson writes: “Anyone and everyone at the table can (and will) proclaim skal every other minute.” For the record, skal — the word for cheers in Swedish, Danish and Norwegian — loosely rhymes with “goal.”

“The most important part of the toast is that you connect with the host and fellow guests by making direct eye contact, both before and after raising your glass and taking a sip.”

Keep your numbers straight like you’re in Reykjavik.

Certain things are harder to do during the pandemic than in normal times, like wearing jeans and remembering what day of the week it is. Fingers crossed that you can remember how to count and do math if you want to play the Icelandic drinking game Boom.

“It’s called Búmm (which translates to “boom” in English and is pronounced like it)," said Ingibjorg Fridriksdottir, the social media marketing for the Hotel Ranga in Iceland, over email. “It’s a counting game so whenever you get to a number with seven in it, or to a number that can be divided by seven, you say ‘Búmm’ in Icelandic.”

If a player messes up or hesitates, they have to drink.

“It’s more difficult than people think,” Fridriksdottir said. “You have to do it fast.”

Once someone calls out “Búmm,” players must switch directions. To do this over Zoom, establish your drinking order first, because everyone will see video attendees in a different lineup. And if you really want to get in the spirit, try sipping Einstok, the Icelandic craft beer.

Toast like you’re in Georgia.

According to positive-psychology research, expressing gratitude can make people happier. Express your gratitude for your friends and loved ones through Georgian drinking traditions by volunteering to be the happy hour tamada, or toastmaster. Throughout your happy hour, preferably enjoyed with Georgian wine, you’ll need to give witty and moving toasts, and encourage others to make toasts, too.

“The rules of the Georgian table call for uplifting toasts; each occasion, even a sad one, becomes an affirmation of life,” writes Darra Goldstein in the book “The Georgian Feast.”

Wield your tamada powers wisely. The job includes the responsibility of making sure people are drinking responsibly.

“The tamada’s ability to pace the evening is also crucial,” Goldstein writes. “Each time a toast is pronounced, whether by the tamada or another person, wine is drunk as a mark of honor. But if inebriation seems likely, the tamada must slow down the succession of toasts.”

Sing karaoke like you’re in Japan.

While karaoke is popular around the world, its invention is credited to Japanese entrepreneur Daisuke Inoue. Today it’s a popular drink-filled pastime in Japanese culture because it can be fun and break through social barriers.

“Karaoke helps fill the empty space and the silence, and it gives you … something to talk about,” Tokyo-based journalist Jake Adelstein told The Washington Post.

Take your karaoke night online by using both a Zoom group video call, plus YouTube and Watch2Gether. The latter will help the group watch the same video at once, so you can see the screen the singer refers to during a song. YouTube is where you’ll find lyrics or karaoke videos.

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