I started business school early in the aughts. My class, as you would expect, was rather full of arrogant know-it-alls (not me and the missus, though – we were super cool).
I distinctly remember one of my classmates holding court early on as everyone tried to impress each other with awesomeness. The conversation had turned to beer, and this guy, in a super knowing and pompous voice, delivered:
“The Guinness in Ireland is so much better than anywhere else. If you’ve never been, you just don’t know what you’re missing.”
It was a powerful statement, and most of the audience had to nod uncomfortably because they hadn’t tasted the Black Stuff in its ancestral home.
I, however, knew he was wrong. Although I was not yet the grizzled sage who writes you today, I was already wise enough to question why the borders of Ireland would magically enhance the taste of a globally-served beer.
Far better than that, though, I had science on my side. I had reams of hard-won data that comprehensively disproved his little hypothesis. By happy coincidence, my brother and I had just taken a two-week tour of the Emerald Isle, and we’d done our best to drink all of the Guinness in Ireland. Every single draught was wonderful, but it tasted the same as well-served Guinness I’d had worldwide.
I didn’t say anything, because I typically decline invitations to arms races of pompousness. But I ticked it off as yet another observation of the insecurity and conceit (and yes, they are 100% correlated) of us humans.
Guinness is great. Ireland is great. Isn’t that enough? Why do we have to combine them into, “If you’ve never had Guinness in Ireland, you’re pretty much a loser who’s missing out on life”? I understand why kindergarteners need to one-up each other, because they’re still finding their way in the world. But adults are better than that. Right?
Unfortunately not. We want to be special and part of an exclusive club. And if we can’t actually achieve that, why don’t we channel our best kindergartener and make stuff up? The great thing is that once you allow your imagination to run wild, anything can become special and exclusive. You can create some “…you just don’t know what you’re missing” snobbery on almost every possible purchase. Sunglasses. Shoes. Jeans. Jackets. Electronics. Wine. Dishwashers (seriously). Cars. Travel (especially travel).
It begs the question: how much of what we spend is for a real benefit, and how much of it is imaginary? What is the premium we pay for one-upmanship?
I’m sure there are some things that are truly incomparable. It’s just that every time I’ve been able to actually test claims, they’ve fallen flat. Skiing in the Swiss Alps is amazing – just like the North American Rockies. Dom Perignon is exquisite – just like a medium priced champagne from Costco. First class seats are decadent – just like getting a full coach row to yourself. Guinness in Ireland tastes awesome – just like Guinness everywhere else. And so on.
I’m Lonely But I’m Right
If you go out to the nicest pub in Des Moines and order an expertly-served Guinness, I’ll gladly concede that you may not enjoy it as much as you would have in Dublin. However, that’s because you’re in Des Moines! (With apologies to my Des Moines readership.) Product snobbery is a subconscious thing, and it’s very hard to bifurcate the beer from the bar.
I know I’m taking a lonely stance. My pompous classmate had a lot of company. There’s even a “scientific” study that claims Guinness is better in Ireland (though I think my brother and I may have dwarfed their data set…). Even the esteemed Barack Obama claimed:
\”The first time I had Guinness is when I came to the Shannon airport. We were flying into Afghanistan and so stopped in Shannon. It was the middle of the night. And I tried one of these and I realised it tastes so much better here than it does in the States…”
That sounds compelling, right? And he was President! But wait – there is one small problem with his statement. Do you see it? Here’s a hint: he says this was the first time he ever drank Guinness. Hmmm…
We can forgive Obama because he’s a politician, but I fear the rest of us are just snobs. And while this snobbery is both interesting and amusing, it’s also costly. You’ll find people buying really expensive goods and services and forcing themselves to justify it by inventing some superiority that doesn’t actually exist.
Everyone should have a pint of Guinness in Ireland. It’s a beautiful country full of warm and wonderful people. The pubs are amazing. You might even catch a leprechaun. But the Guinness, my friend, will taste exactly the same.