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I stayed a bit late yesterday as I had quite a bit of work to catch up with. I wasn't aware that the world cup semi finals was happening between Argentina and the Netherlands. As a result a bunch of my superiors were sitting in the lounge watching the game. My manager called me over and asked me to have a beer. I politely declined and said no.

I said no because I am a minor (20) and I just don't like drinking. However they tried to coerce me and it was a very awkward situation. I simply laughed and declined. I'm not sure how I should handle this situation next time.

In situations like these, do I always firmly put my foot down and say "no" or is there a more graceful way to handle these types of social situations without damaging relations?

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Hey user, welcome back to The Workplace. Did they know you are a minor? If you could edit to add that info, it would help a lot (was this intentionally trying to get you to break the law, or more that they were trying to invite you for a beer without knowing it was illegal). Thanks in advance! –  jmac Jul 10 at 13:43
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I think you handled it well. It's more about socializing than drinking (unless you're with alcoholics). Grab a bottle of water or a soda and hang out. BTW - NEVER drinking alcohol with supervisors or clients is a good policy to start, now. –  Wesley Long Jul 10 at 14:22
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You should add that this was in the USA. –  Soccerman Jul 11 at 9:04
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Note that this should be the same question as being offered an unwanted cookie. "No thanks" requires no explanation. You may or may not want to give one if the offers are awkwardly frequent, but that's a secondary matter. –  keshlam Jul 11 at 21:50

8 Answers 8

up vote 94 down vote accepted

I simply laughed and declined.

Laughing and declining was exactly the right thing to do in this situation.

While it may have felt awkward, your were wise to choose that path. Your response was graceful enough and I'd be shocked if there were any damages to relationships. Don't worry about it so much!

If it happens again, you might choose to add "Save that beer for when I'm 21, Ok?" but say it with a smile and laugh again.

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I'd like to add that if there are any damages to the relationship, that's a clear sign that you should start looking for another job. –  Jenny D Jul 11 at 11:19
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Use the "Save that beer for when I'm 21" line only if you actually want to drink once you're 21. You're still not obligated to drink (unless you're a professional beer taster). If anyone pressures you, you have every right to decline politely. –  Keith Thompson Jul 11 at 19:30

Sometimes people can be overly friendly, and it's possible that your seniors were just trying to make you feel welcome. Whatever the case, it's perfectly acceptable to say "I don't drink, but I'll have a (Coke/tea/whatever you like)." If he/she persists after this is said and it makes you truly uncomfortable, you should ask to speak to your manager privately at the first suitable opportunity and explain your objections.

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You did the right things, but Remember your cultures:

  1. For many people of European descent, the concept of 'drinking age' is much more flexible than in the US, or other countries.

  2. For some managers, pack behavior is a mechanism of trust. Have fun as we have fun; eat/drink what we eat/drink.

for both cases, as @roger says, "the number and status of the other people in the conversation" is crucial to knowing if anything outside your bounds is being put on the table.

If all is otherwise safe, and you're OK with it, #1 is often safe.

#2 can be harder, since it can be a sign of poor leadership. I know someone who left a company because the management there only knew how to value others based on pack behavior. If you're seeing this, and it's not your pack-style, then plan for better pastures.

(note: pack behavior is not inherently a sign of incompetence. I know a venture team that was really into clubbing, and they raised 3 rounds; more than $12MM USD. Thus, know who you are and what works for you.)

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@DavidRicherby I guess the intended meaning is that Europeans regard legal drinking age as a much less srious barrier than in the US. If what I see on US TV is true (...), underage drinking is a police matter in the US, which seems laughable to me as a European. –  AakashM Jul 11 at 8:41
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@AakashM - this. I've literally never heard anyone refuse a drink for being underage, and people even give 12 y.o. kids a beer over lunch, especially in northern countries. This question made me positively giddy, imagining a 20 y.o. man refusing a beer because he's not old enough to drink. –  Davor Jul 14 at 10:28

I am a woman. I have been practicing law for 40 years. I learned early that while many of my colleagues drink, some heavily, that I was better off if I kept my wits about me.Because I am a small woman that usually means not drinking , or drinking very little in professional situations while still being part of the group.

I also learned early on that I liked to socialize with the guys and it was necessary to do so with the clients. I needed to devise a strategy maintained my comfort level and social/professional expectations.

This is what I have done successfully.

I plead having had a recent sinus infection and being on antibiotics. You are not supposed to have alcohol when you are taking antibiotics.Most everyone knows that and most everyone is sympathetic. Sinus infections are common and socially neutral.

The script goes like this:

"Hey Piquet, have a drink"

"No thanks"

"C'mon don't be a party-pooper(whatever)"

"Charlie, I am just coming off a monster sinus infection and I still have X days of my antibiotics to go. I have to take a pass."

Tell them you did some binge drinking at school and the taste of beer gives you PTSD-type flashbacks to the inside of your dorm room wastebasket. That is what happens to me actually.The thought of $1.00 US a quart Drury's or Ripple circa 1968 still makes my stomach lurch.

Either of these two examples works equally well for a guy or a woman.

If you eventually make a life choice to abstain from alcohol for whatever reason, write out a couple scripts and practice them.

A lot of business and the congeniality that makes business go smoothly still revolves around alcohol, so it is best to be prepared with a good line.

Other possibilities are to say you are the designated driver. (Most bars will give you free non-alcoholic drinks if you are the DD for part of a drinking group).

If you are at a bar with people, make friends with the bartender. They can mock up lots of drinks without booze. I like cranberry juice, seltzer and a lime.

Eventually it will come easier say, "No, thanks" without sounding judgmental or prissy. It takes practice but you will get there.

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I always say I am the designated driver and since I drive myself places, I am. It helps in these office socail situations to have a nonalcoholic drink in your hand at all times. If someone totally won't give in and the person is higher in the organization than you are, take a drink from them and then only pretend to drink from it and get away from that person as soon as you can. But I have only very rarely had someone persist after using the designated driver excuse. –  HLGEM Jul 10 at 17:45
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If you're not a DD (eg because you drove by yourself), "My limit is 0 when driving" is an option. Despite being large enough that I could rapidly drink a few beers and still be legal if I left immediately I've never gotten any flak over declining. –  Dan Neely Jul 10 at 21:28
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Why repeatedly lie about a sinus infection if a simple "that would violate my parole conditions" will silence them forever, guaranteed ;-) You can also use that line to leave early at boring parties ("must be home before my 10pm curfew") –  TemplateRex Jul 11 at 11:28
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@TemplateRex: alternatively blame it on anti-psychotics rather than antibiotics. –  Steve Jessop Jul 11 at 14:16
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Rex and Steve: Those are cute quips t a bar, but the context here is the workplace. Not every boss has a sense of humor and crack comments sometimes have a long tail . "Hey Pete, did you know Piquet is on parole? What was she in for?" when Pete is the VP of HR can have repercussions, especially if Pete remembers the rumor in 15 years. Sinus infections are neutral. No one heard you cough. No one saw you run to the john to pee a lot. –  piquet Jul 11 at 15:45

I say "I don't drink". Nicely and firmly. They never bother me afterward. If I damage relations by refusing to drink, then these relations are pretty brittle to begin with, and perhaps not worth having or keeping.

I believe that they are trying to coerce you in a friendly way, and that you should push back on a way that is just as friendly. I wouldn't worry about damaging relations with anybody.

My little brother doesn't drink either and he is hugely popular with his drinking friends. He is the "designated driver" :)

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The way you declined was just fine. Often, however, people don't want to hear no. The best way to remove their disappointment is with a distraction. When saying no to something, the best distraction is to offer an alternative.

In this case, I would not offer the old "rain check" alternative because it sounds like you don't want to drink pretty much ever. I would instead "offer" the alternative by asking if they have something else. "No beer for me, but I'll take a soda if you have any."

In this example, as someone hinted on already, what they really want is your comradery, so it is very important, actually, that you do not unintentionally refuse that. You are refusing the beer, not their company. Make that obvious.

Personally, I don't care for beer much, so I do refuse it often, but I like whiskey, so that is usually my alternative in these scenarios. You can take the gamble that they won't have any, but that will eventually backfire, because you don't want to drink at all.

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"No, thank you. I appreciate the offer, but I just don't like the stuff."

(Or, if you're as paranoid as jmac believes you should be, "..., but I'd prefer not to.")

If that "damages relations" with anyone, that's THEIR problem.

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I'd think the manager, having offered alcohol to a minor himself, wouldn't be in a position to judge the minor's admission that he/she has had alcohol in the past. –  Adam V Jul 10 at 15:21
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It's possible to disike something without having tried it. For example, I can dislike heroin despite never having used it - I've seen what it's done to others. –  occulus Jul 10 at 15:48
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Most of us have tasted alcohol in various forms at home long before we can buy it -- a sip of our parents' drinks, for example. That was quite sufficient for ME to decide I didn't particularly like it. No illegal behavior required or implied, so I'm afraid I honestly consider @jmac's objection an overreaction at best. –  keshlam Jul 10 at 15:53
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@jmac, Just because you are under 21 in the US does not necessarily mean that you have sampled alcohol illegally. For example, at least in Texas where I live, it is legal for a parent/guardian to give alcohol to their charge on private property. (I shared beer with my father when I was in first grade.) Religious ceremonies (communion, f.e.) are also exempt. –  Brian S Jul 10 at 18:54
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I suppose it is totally legal for US citizens between 18 and 21 to get totally drunk while on holiday in Europe. And illegal for Europeans of that age to do the same in the USA. –  gnasher729 Jul 11 at 9:53

I'm not sure why others here have felt the need to make up some sort of excuse, just say why you don't (or can't) drink.

I simply say, I don't drink alcohol, and if asked why (which is often the case), reply that both my parents were alcoholics, and when it was found nearly 30 years ago that there is a genetic disposition to alcoholism, I quit drinking just in case and haven't had a drink since. That often turns into a topic of conversation for a while.

So I have my Diet Coke or Coke Zero, get free refills all night, and end up with a bill that is a fraction of what my coworkers have to pay. I think I'm the only one (out of some 20 people) in the company that doesn't drink, but many by now know that I don't.

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