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Inviting Writing: First Tastes

For the next round of Inviting Writing, and to celebrate the impending new year, we're seeking your stories about "first taste" experiences.To be considered for publication, please e-mail your submissions to FoodandThink@gmail.com by this Friday (Dec. 17) morning. We'll read through all of them and...

For the next round of Inviting Writing, and to celebrate the impending new year, we're seeking your stories about "first taste" experiences.

To be considered for publication, please e-mail your submissions to FoodandThink@gmail.com by this Friday (Dec. 17) morning. We'll read through all of them and pick our favorites to edit and publish on subsequent Mondays through mid-January. Just a reminder, we're looking for true, original personal narratives of roughly 500 to 1,000 words. The rest of the details are up to you!

I'll start with an example...

My Goodness, My Guinness By Amanda Bensen

Ever heard the term "goody two-shoes?" That was me in high school, and that was still me at 19, as I entered my junior year of college. Up until then, I had never had an alcoholic drink. After all, I wasn't 21---and underage drinking was not only illegal, but at my college it was an offense that could get you expelled (along with having opposite-sex visitors in your room overnight, or with the door closed).



But my junior year was different. I was studying abroad in England, where the drinking age was only 18, which meant that the mysterious world of alcohol was suddenly wide open to me. I was eager to experience British culture, and I quickly discerned that drinking was a necessary part of this---even the church I visited held its "young adults' Bible study" at a pub.

When Ryan, another American student in my program, heard that I'd never had a drink, he was both incredulous and adamant that we remedy this strange condition immediately. He dragged me into a pub on the outskirts of Oxford. It was early on a weekday evening, and the place was quiet. We sat at the bar, where a handful of middle-aged men were silently watching television and nursing pints of beer.

"She'll have a Guinness, and so will I," Ryan announced loudly, as if this were something extraordinary. The bartender smirked as he handed us our drinks. I was about to take a sip when Ryan stopped me.

"Wait," he said, lowering his voice. "Just so you know, this is a real local pub, not a tourist trap. They know how to drink. That means you have to take at least an inch or two out of the glass in your first swig, or they'll probably laugh you right out of here."

I was alarmed. That wouldn't be a good way to experience the local culture. So, I took a big gulp, choking slightly and getting foam on my nose in the process. It tasted bitter, but not bad...kind of like dark chocolate, or coffee. I liked it!

Trying to ignore the fact that the other customers were now watching us more than the television, we hunched over our pints and tried not to talk. I looked at the vintage beer ads displayed on the pub's wall, with slogans like "Lovely day for a Guinness" and "My goodness, my Guinness!" and debated whether it would be nerdy or cool to mention that I was reading a biography of the British mystery author Dorothy Sayers, who wrote those slogans in the 1930s. I was hoping it would help prepare me for a tutorial on C.S. Lewis I'd be taking that fall, since Sayers was a friend of his. Probably nerdy, I decided.

By the time my pint was nearly drained, Ryan was already finishing his second. "What did you have for dinner?" he asked. I said I hadn't had dinner yet.

He put on a look of mocking seriousness (although the mocking part went straight over my head at the time).

"What?!? No food in your stomach? That means you're going to be sick in..." he looked at his watch. "Twenty minutes."

I felt fine, but he sounded certain, so I was worried. We tossed a handful of pound coins down on the bar and hurried out to the street in search of a quick bite. With only five minutes left in our ridiculous countdown, we found a food truck. I ordered a tray of fries and a greasy veggie burger, and downed them quickly, as if they were medicine. I don't know how Ryan managed to keep such a straight face through it all.

By the end of that year, I was the one dragging visiting friends to the local pubs, although I never got into heavy drinking. After buying me eight shots in a row one night without seeing any effect, Ryan declared me the best drinking buddy he'd ever seen: "Such a tolerance! Never seen anything like it in a girl!"

What he didn't realize is that I was the one doing the leg-pulling this time -- it was a dark pub, there was nothing behind my chair but a dead-end stairwell, and I'd been tossing the shots over my shoulder the whole time.

I've long since lost touch with Ryan, but I still love Guinness.
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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