I have confused hundreds of secretaries and managing directors with my polite refusal to caffeinated drinks. By doing so, I have broken the cultural routine played out in a situation called the press interview. For a press photographer one of the frequently recurring scenes is arriving at a company with a reporter and being shown to a room with coffee cups on the table. Offers of coffee are followed and upon refusal, tea is suggested. Having developed an insensitivity to caffeine about 10 years ago, I also pass on the brewed tea, which often baffles the offerer. Seeing tea bags somewhere on the room I know it is safe to accept tea, which in many cases results in a secretary being summoned and water being boiled at some more distant part of the office. This happens more often in the male-dominated workplaces where coffee-drinking seems to be the unquestioned norm.
I have noticed that pretending to go through the little assortment of teabags but not picking any of them and drinking only the hot water, possibly with milk, is the least confusing option for the host, who hopefully by this time is engaged in conversation with the reporter and does not notice the photographer. If I am found out, or this tactic is not possible, an explanation is needed. Mentioning my allergy to caffeine usually prompts more questions but it also smoothens things out and reveals that my behavior is not rudeness. There is a perfectly logical reason behind it that does not involve value judgements about the tea sortiments offered. Of course, if there are other refreshments on the table, the whole incident can be avoided by going for the water bottle.
Similarly I have an allergy to alcohol. Avoiding drinking in social situations is more tricky than the case with coffee and tea. It is not uncommon to see labels of uptightness and killjoys flash in the minds of people when I turn down invitations to drinking. As in the case with caffeine, offering a medical explanation usually eases the peer pressure and is easier to accept, as it shows that there is no moral judgements of the other people or their choices involved in my behavior.
What sometimes bothers be about the discussions of sustainability and recycling is the air of morality firmly rooted between the lines. Whether you recycle or not seen less as a cultural habit or automatic behavior but as an indicator of your character. Inability to recycle your milk cartons makes you bad person and throws on you the ever-growing layers of guilt compared to the perfectly recycling ranks saving the world. I wonder if it would easier for people to make the switch to becoming more sustainable if there were less morality in the peer pressure? If the person throwing the pizza box in the wrong waste container could be seen, not as someone with a serious moral condition, but as a person suffering mostly from die-hard habits and automated non-thinking?