The 10 Rules of Dive Bar Etiquette

Dive bars in America are known for three basic things: cheap drinks, food that might kill you and elementary violence. There’s one in almost every town, and they are among our most-loved institutions. On your worst day, no one at The Ding Dong Lounge will judge you — and if you show up in a ball gown, no one will really care.

As much as I love fancy cocktails at, say, The Oak Bar, there’s something oddly charming about ordering a two dollar beer and a shot in a dirty, peanut-covered dive where you heard there was recently a knife fight. It’s a kind of urban adventure. That said, when you’re taking such an adventure, especially when you’re outside of your usual domain, you should observe some key rules of etiquette.

That’s right, I said etiquette. Etiquette isn’t just about salad forks and car doors, it’s about doing as the Romans do, so as not to irritate anybody or make yourself unnecessarily conspicuous. Blending in is the foundation of civilized society, even in bars where your shoes stick to the floor when you walk.

So here they are, The 10 Rules of Dive Bar Etiquette, especially for when you “ain’t from ’round these parts.”

1. Tip. Tip a dollar per drink, or two dollars if the drink is over $6. Any drink over $6 is probably a mixed drink, which means the bartender put in a little extra effort (presumably as little as possible) and has thus earned an extra buck. The tip for a drink over $12 should be $3, but if you’re at a dive bar where they’re serving drinks for over $12, your taste in dive bars sucks. Also, if you tip in coins, you’re doing it wrong.2. Don’t ask too many questions. The only appropriate question, really, is “What do you have on tap?” — and that’s only if the taps are not visible. Unless your bartender invites further conversation, tell them (don’t ask them for) your drink, then assume that their dog is dead and this is the funeral. Don’t bug them about how long the bar has been around, whether they own it, and don’t ask what kind of wine they have. They have white and red.

3. Don’t talk on the phone. If you absolutely must make or take a call, step away from the bar and head to the restroom area, where there is often the remains of a pay phone of yore. This is the only appropriate place to carry on a conversation. Nobody wants to hear your business, and when you’re on the phone next to them, they can’t help but listen and start to hate you.

4. Don’t judge the locals. Out loud. You never know who’s into knife fights.

5. If you order a round of shots, you pay. “Do you want to do a shot?” is an invitation to buy a shot for someone, not an invitation for someone to buy one for him or herself. You also must offer a toast. Even if it’s just “to drinking.”

6. Don’t touch the bar mat. The mat on the bar, as well as everything behind the bar, is sacred. The bartender will put the drink in front of you when they decide it’s time for you to drink it. If the dive is also an eating establishment, there may be a bar mat where servers pick up drinks for their tables. Don’t sit or stand there.

7. Smoking rules. You must not borrow more than one cigarette from anyone without buying them a drink. Cigarettes, to some dive bar frequenters, are worth their weight in paper money, and, when in a bind, they will smoke paper money. If you are going outside for a smoke, you must place your cocktail napkin on top of your beer, or the bartender will think you’ve left. If you see a drink with a cocktail napkin on it in front of an empty bar stool or at a bar table, you can’t sit there. Roofies are okay. (Kidding.)

8. Don’t eyeball the bartender. Unless you have official bar business like ordering a drink or a tab, eye contact with the bartender is an uncomfortable faux pas. If you don’t have someone to talk to, eyeballing the bartender looks desperate. Stare into your drink and contemplate your existence like a normal person, or ask a nearby guest about the upcoming weather (you’ll be flying or driving soon, after all).

9. Observe bathroom gender codes. No talking for men; obligatory talking for women (a simple “hi” is okay, but if you say nothing, you’re a rude outsider).

10. Keep it simple. Don’t order a complicated drink. The ingredients should be in the name of the drink (examples: gin and tonic, beer). Also, grade your drink on a Pass/Fail basis, not on complex ratios or emotional implications. If the drink is too weak, order a double next time. If the drink is too strong, let us know where that bar is.



Travel surf etiquette

I was having a grand ole time surfing at Ala Moana Bowls the other day when a rude, disrespecting woman decided to paddle for a wave and proceeded to cut off three other surfers and nearly behead my friend. Growing ever more confrontational in my old age, I began to argue with the lady about her very inappropriate surf etiquette. Profanities were exchanged, I nearly spit in her face, and she nearly punched me. Two perfectly mature female surfers in Honolulu suddenly became mortal enemies over shoulder-high waves just days before the New Year.

This immediately got me thinking about my surfing experiences abroad. I’ve been fortunate enough to have surfed in some of the most idyllic places in the world, with Costa Rica, West Timor, and Fiji topping that list. While I don’t claim to be an expert in the sport, I usually know how to behave in the water — especially in foreign waters.
Wherever in the world you are, there is a universal surf etiquette. Surfing manners are essentially like body language: you show others your intentions, and they show you yours.

While there are no written rules in the water, it’s still wise to follow standard surfing protocol — especially when you’re in a foreign country. I’ve been to places like Kuta Beach where the surfer tourists outnumber the locals, and the last thing I want to see is a fight, or a spoiled travel destination. So here are a few things to keep in mind on your next exotic surf trip:

  • Respect the locals: You are, after all, in their territory. In most cases, these surfing locals do not have the opportunity that we do to travel to surfing destinations. We should keep this in mind even before we set foot on their land and in their waters. In return, you may find a breadth of knowledge that they would be willing to share with you!
  • Know the “right of way” rule: The person “inside” of you has priority on the wave. That means if you’re going left, the person farthest to the right should have the wave; if you’re going right, the person farthest left should take it. Don’t fight about it if you get cut off! Odds are there is another wave on the horizon.
  • Tag teaming and cutting off is not cool: I really hate when groups of surfers collaborate in the water to catch all the set waves. Sharing is caring, and surfing should be fun — not competitive.
  • The ocean is in charge: My friend Matt once remarked that “the ocean is his boss, and [he] is just an employee.” I really like this outlook when surfing. As every surfer will know, the ocean is a very powerful force. You are never in charge out there, so let the people who are out there, sharing the experience with you, enjoy the experience.
  • Smile: I have countless new friends from surfing. Just the other day, I was surfing at Pupukea and got to practice my Spanish with a visiting Brazilian surfer from Sao Paolo. In September, I was surfing at “Las Lanchas” in Punta de Mita, Mexico (near Puerto Vallarta) and it was just me and a fishing boat captain out at the point, chatting it up, smiling, and enjoying the surf. Making friends out on the water is one of the coolest, most memorable experiences in my lifetime.

When in doubt, let the other guy have the wave. Fighting for waves is not fun, nor is it worth making enemies. Enjoy the ocean.

Think the French are rude? Try New York

After compiling data all summer, I honestly have to say that I’m starting to like Parisians more than New Yorkers. This isn’t limited to a one time event or getting kicked out of Milk and Honey either – I realize that when faced with thousands of people every day everyone is going to run into a few bad apples. At this point in my travels, however, I’m starting to get the feeling that Parisians are just flat out friendlier than residents of the Big Apple.

To back up – I’m not the sort of person that makes broad generalizations about a city or culture based on a bad experience. I have tons of lovely friends in New York and am almost always thrilled to be in the city. I reap my opinion from days sown in each city, fumbling around in circles trying to order pizza or crepes, navigating the city streets in the middle of the night or underground, lost in a maze of subways.

As an example, on holiday in Paris this past month I spent three days wandering through the city with my girlfriend. Not once did someone scowl at me for butchering my French, nor did they shirk away when I asked for directions or stood on the wrong side of the escalator. To the contrary, people I met were pleasant, nice and even downright helpful.

Conversely, my time spent in New York has been marred with impatient commuters, surly public transportation employees and a general feeling of “you don’t belong here.”

What can I say? Paris has done a better job of making me feel welcome than New York has. Been across the pond this summer? What’s your story?


Gadling Take Five: Week of June 14-June 20

Food was once again on our minds here at Gadling. Actually, a lot was on our minds, but almost everyone had something to say about food.

  • Grant wanted to know if you could eat what Andrew Zimmern eats on Bizarre Foods. Grant couldn’t. I’m not particularly fond of intestines either.
  • Matthew told us what foods to avoid in Japan.
  • Erik told us how to not lose food because of motion-sickness.
  • Iva told us how the Chinese are renaming their food so we don’t get sick from the names.
  • And, Kelsey reminded us to ask for the bill in a restaurant in Mexico so after you’ve eaten, you can pay.

Oh, and one more. If you’re around Heather in the galley of an airplane, keep your hands out of those lemons!

Minding your Manners in Mexico

Being polite is the best thing you can do in Mexico to ensure good service and to also undo those nasty rumors that Canadians and Americans are generally rude and want everything “right now!”

In our time here we have learned a few tips that have made our lives easier while living and traveling in Mexico. As with all countries, making the effort to be polite will always work in your favor. Mexicans are very friendly people and are more than willing to assist you with whatever you need. However, being demanding, disrespectful and causing a scene are all great ways to not only lose whatever help you might have received but also furthers the unfortunate stereotype that all foreigners are impolite.

Some things to keep in mind when you explore Mexico:

  • Always Greet People First
    Always greet whomever you want to speak to with “Buenos Dias” (Good morning), “Buenas Tardes” (Good Afternoon) or “Buenas Noches” (Good Evening). It is customary to greet staff when you enter a store and to acknowledge them on your way out. If you launch into a tirade about what you want without a proper greeting you can expect mediocre service–Mexicans find this type of behavior extremely rude.
  • Shake Hands and Pucker Up
    Like some European countries it is customary to shake hands (for men) or kiss cheeks (this only applies to women) whenever you greet your Mexican friends. Men usually shake hands, though the Baja has some local handshakes which have a few flashy add-ons. Women are not included in the fancy handshakes — I asked a gentleman why he didn’t high-five me and he look absolutely appalled that I would even consider it. So ladies, get ready to kiss a lot of cheeks. Surprisingly, for a culture full of machismo, bone-crushing handshakes are considered impolite, a light grip is more than adequate.
  • Remember to Ask for the Bill
    Tom and I sat for ages in a café waiting for the server to realize we were ready to go. We finally asked for “la cuenta” (the bill) and quickly left the restaurant complaining of the poor service. A friend of ours enlightened us to the fact that it is considered rude to bring the bill to the table if it has not yet been requested. Instead of rushing you out of the restaurant, the servers give you time to relax and enjoy your meal, quite a change from Canada where the staff tend to push you out the door so they can serve more customers. Whenever you are ready to leave just nicely ask for the bill.
  • Address People Using their Titles
    Titles are a huge deal in Mexico. “Señor”, “Señora” and “Señorita” all show respect and it is best to use them until the person you are speaking with indicates otherwise. Education is highly regarded and it is a good idea to address people by these titles as well, “Doctor(a)”, “Ingeniero” (engineer) and “Profesor(a)” (professor)) are some titles you may come across. If you are a university grad you can always introduce yourself as “Licenciado(a)” in formal situations.
  • Say Adios to your Personal Bubble
    Mexicans tend to stand close when they are talking to you. This can take some getting used to but whatever you do try not to step back, it is considered offensive and gives the impression that you don’t want to be near that person.

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T
    Overall, the best thing you can do in Mexico is to be respectful to everyone. From taxi drivers to business executives you need to make sure you treat everyone graciously. Those travelers who make the effort to be courteous and polite will experience better service, lots of smiles and a much better reception when traveling in Mexico.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.