James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Actually, Post‑Election Jäger Shots Make Perfect Sense

Actually, Post‑Election Jäger Shots Make Perfect Sense

Jägermeister in Warsaw

I had just arrived in Warsaw to report on the rise of far-right groups a few days after casting my ballot early for the U.S. election. I grew up with a father who fought against Communism in what was then Czechoslovakia, so I was drawn to the region.

After waking up to the news of a president-elect Donald Trump, followed by a day of reporting on the surge of neo-Nazi ideals, I figured I would find salvation only at the bottom of a shot glass. So my flatmate peeled me away from my keyboard and dragged me through the frigid cold to a local dive.

“I’m not drinking much,” I said as I sleepily stumbled over the uneven cobblestones. “Just enough to soothe the sting.”

Almost immediately after squeezing our way through the drunken dancers to find the smoking room, we met two young Polish men. They were designers. One had unkempt hair and metal-rimmed glasses. The other’s only memorable trait was his ability to sense an urgency for liquor. We tossed back shots of Jäger and exchanged “Na zdrowies” before dancing to 80s pop. People stumbled over each other and avoided the broken glass blended with beer that tiled the black floor.

During a slow song, I made a mistake I would make many times on this trip: I brought up politics with our new drinking buddies. In my defense, a man balanced on the edge of our table muttered something about Trump and the topic seemed inevitable. I rolled my eyes, and said something that I’m sure I thought was clever at the time.

Our otherwise-unmemorable drinking pal said, “What, don’t you like Trump?” in a tone that signified he couldn’t fathom the alternative. After repositioning my thoughts and my feet, which had stuck to the floor, I asked, “Well, do you?”

“Is that a trick question?” asked the wire-rimmed face.

Based on our drinking buddy’s perplexed expression, they couldn’t imagine that someone would support anyone other than Trump. I started to ask why, and quickly remembered my objective for being in the bar in the first place—to escape my feelings about the political climate in the U.S. We continued chatting, but mostly drinking.

The dance floor was a much more welcoming, politically neutral environment. I sang along to songs off records my father smuggled into his country as I shimmied away from the conversation.

I learned later that Mr. Nondescript, the more enthusiastic Trump supporter of the two, was dating a woman from Brazil who was attempting to overstay her visa to Poland to be with him. The whole night made about as much sense as choosing to drink Jäger on a weekday in Poland.

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