Tuesday, June 3, 2008

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Koma-Saufen: Coma Drinking

Saufen, grölen, pöbeln – wer das Pech hat, in einer britischen Urlaubshochburg zu landen, wähnt sich schnell in der Hölle. Kein Wunder, dass das Wort Koma-Saufen vom englischen „Binge-Drinking“ kommt. Das Saufen bis zum Umfallen ist eindeutig eine britische „Erfindung“.

~ Das Bild
2 June 2008

[My somewhat free translation since my German is only so-so: Drinking, bellowing, swearing—whoever has the misfortune to land in a British tourist stronghold quickly presumes himself in hell. No wonder that the word “coma-drinking” comes from the English "binge drinking." Drinking until you fall down is clearly a British "invention."]

British and German tabloids are having at each other over how unpleasant each others’ tourists are, spurred on when Briton David Barnish was granted an award against a travel agency that booked a trip for his family in a Greek hotel packed to the rafters with Germans. The Sun tabloid lays out the dirt here while Das Bild lashes back here with unflattering images of nekkid sunburned English women and insults to British national pride. For a splurge in sophomoric nationalism, it’s worth a peek.

Now, our family is largely Irish, so perhaps this is a bit of a pot/kettle discussion, but what gets me is the misguided notion that binge drinking is a British invention. Germans, noted as much for their sobriety as their vegetarianism, seem to be no strangers to consuming prodigious amounts of ethanol (Oktoberfest, anyone?).

In fact, one of my favorite anecdotes of American distillers is from the revolutionary war and involves Germans (notes? Of course I can’t find notes: it’s hours past my bedtime). As I recall, a band of Hessian mercenaries descended on a New Jersey farmstead en route to attacking American forces. The family, rebels that they were, proved their guile by inviting the soldiers to camp in their field and even provided them with a drop of applejack (that is, a local apple brandy) to warm themselves against the cold.

Well, more than a drop. The Hessians drank so much and got so hammered that they passed out and were summarily dealt with. Nein, Das Bild, es tut mir leid: Koma-Saufen seems not to be a British invention. Maybe American…

Does anyone know this story? Is it documented or just a bit of folklore? And, lest anyone think I'm slamming Germans, it's just a little familial ribbing: my great-grandmother, apparently, was named von Hassenberg.

[10 June 2008 edit: Will Elsbury, Pre-Twenieth Century Military History Specialist at the Library of Congress, takes up the gauntlet and digs up a source of the tale here]

Goes well with:
  • Starving Themselves, Cocktail in Hand, a New York Times piece on "drunkorexia... shorthand for a disturbing blend of behaviors: self-imposed starvation or bingeing and purging, combined with alcohol abuse." "Drunkorexia," it claims, "is not an official medical term." Yeah, I pretty much figured. Disturbing nonetheless.

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