What would mother say about bottles at the ballet?

January 08, 2002|By William Noble

ISLAND HEIGHTS, N.J. - Not long ago, my wife and I attended an evening ballet performance of The Sleeping Beauty at one of America's renowned theaters. The audience was standing-room only, elegantly dressed and tastefully enthusiastic about the performance.

Why, then, did it seem we'd emerged from a race-biker's stopover?

It began during intermission after Act I. "Let's have some champagne," I suggested.

"Love to," my wife responded.

The attendant poured our champagne into fluted glasses and I passed over a $20 bill. A female voice at my shoulder then said, "Water, please."

The attendant gave me my change and turned to a neat row of clear plastic water bottles.

"That'll be four-fifty," he said to her.

"Better let me have two." She was dressed in a silk-satin pants suit. "Sitting makes me thirsty," she said, smiling and balancing the two water bottles in one hand while passing over her money.

A moment later my wife and I were sipping our champagne and running our eyes over the crowd. My wife had just finished saying how ballet audiences surpassed any others when it came to elegance of dress.

As I nodded, I saw the young woman who ordered the water. She stood by a tall, bearded fellow in a dark suit and, in tandem, each lifted a water bottle and drank. No glasses, no straws, no softening the image of direct drinking from the bottle.

"What are you staring at?" my wife asked.

"Remember when we were kids and our mothers said, `Don't drink from the bottle, it's uncouth ... you'll get someone else's germs'?"


I nodded toward the young woman and her companion. But the house lights dimmed, and they walked off toward their seats. "Next intermission," I promised.

About 45 minutes later we were once again standing and sipping champagne, but I was no longer fixed on the young woman. There were others drinking from water bottles, casually and frequently. Men in suits and ties, women in fashionable skirts and dresses sipping and gulping, sipping and gulping.

"See!" I said to my wife.

"It's mostly younger people," she said.

Perhaps, but I wanted to remind her they had mothers, too. It's no excuse to say lots of people drink from water bottles when crudeness is still crudeness, especially if highlighted in surrounding elegance.

The water bottle industry, it seems, has become big business. More than 500 different domestic and imported brands can be bought now, though one has to ask, how much different can one bottle of water be from the next? It isn't as if there's a secret formula!

But the bottled water industry must realize it's onto something, because since 1991, bottled water is the fastest-growing beverage that people consume - more so than soft drinks, beer, milk, coffee or fruit juices. It's now sixth in total consumption per capita. Yet what makes the act of sipping from a water bottle any different than gulping from a bottle of beer or bottle of milk? Would guzzling a cold one fit in at a theater intermission, too?

The question needs to be asked: Are the old lessons irrelevant because so many people ignore them? Or because of clever marketing that pushes aside civility in the name of exercise?

"People drink water out of the bottle when they do sweaty things, when they schmooze, when they drive in the car," I said. "Who thinks about a glass?"

"I do," my wife answered. "So did my mother."

William Noble is a free-lance writer who lives in Island Heights, N.J.

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