The Christmas I learned that prosecco is not a personality

I thought my friends bought me fizz because I was fun. In fact, it was because they barely knew me any more

Someone once told me a story about Mariah Carey that goes like this: in an interview, Carey is asked to name her drink of choice. “Prosecco,” she replies, matter-of-factly. Unsatisfied with this answer (of course the glitter-loving songstress drinks wine that sparkles), the journalist pushes on. “Sure,” they say, “but what else?”

“Just prosecco,” Carey replies.

“Not even water?” They laugh, but Carey does not.

“Just prosecco.”

I repeat this story about three times a year, usually after someone points out that I, too, drink only prosecco – as I have done for nearly a decade – and in settings they find unusual: covered in soil after a big gardening session; after a boxing class; a “quick one” after work. “What can I say? I’m a Poundland Mariah,” I might say, happily perpetuating the myth of the great diva (despite numerous searches, I have found no evidence that Carey ever did such an interview).

So, when roughly 80% of my Christmas gifts and cards three years ago had a prosecco theme, I didn’t think anything of it. There was the mug that read “Sssh! There’s prosecco in here”; a “prosecc-sy lady” T-shirt that hurts me to write about as much as it hurts you to read it; jars and bags of prosecco-flavoured somethings (caramel, popcorn, sweets, even bath bombs) – and that was before the countless bottles of prosecco itself, big and small.

Most greetings cards in Britain have a reference to drinking too much (an improvement on the other trope: telling you that you are old and will be dead soon), so I didn’t find them, or the gifts that riffed off the sentiment, offensive. And I understood why people found my drinking habits a bit odd. Prosecco is usually a celebratory drink, not an everyday one. But I drink only socially – and time spent with people you like is always a cause for celebration, in my view.

Coco Khan with a methuselah of prosecco, Christmas 2019
Coco Khan with a methuselah of prosecco, Christmas 2019. Photograph: Provided by Coco Khan

Also, despite the mass production of such “prosecco princess” novelty items, despite them being on every supermarket shelf in the country, I still found the gifts and cards pleasing. I have a strange relationship with money, insofar as my family has very little: when you grow up needing state assistance for housing and other essentials, you are forever talking about what you need rather than what you want. There is nothing essential about a glass of prosecco; it is pure whimsy, fun and frivolity at a price that even I can’t feel guilty about. It is not that I don’t see how exclusively drinking bubbles with my pinky up might make me seem like a princess; I do. Indeed, that is precisely the fun.

But, as I would come to learn nearly a year later, prosecco is not a personality. Drinking it is not a character trait; it does not reflect my soul or my experience.

The awakening was a rude one. I mentioned in passing to a very dear friend that last Christmas everyone had bought me prosecco, forgetting that she had been one of them. She bristled: “Well, that’s what you get someone when you barely know them any more, isn’t it?” A confrontation followed. She said I had been slowly drifting away from everyone; she was sad that, as a “so-called best friend” (air quotes and everything), she knew nothing of me these days – not my interests, ambitions, fears or struggles. “All I know is you like prosecco,” she said, sighing.

And she had a point. The year of the prosecc-ho-ho Christmas had been a particularly rough one. I was struggling to balance increased caring responsibilities with a growing workload; there were constant arguments between my flatmates; and my boyfriend and I were in a vicious cycle of breakups. So, I did what I always do whenever I feel I can’t force a smile or silence the anxious voices long enough to be good company: I disappeared.

Was my festive treasure trove a sign my friends and family were playing it safe, that they had little else to say? Were the prosecco gifts a symptom of my increasing social alienation? The possibility certainly got me thinking.

I would like to say that my behaviour transformed after that, but learning to trust people enough to let them in – and let them help, in the understanding that isolation only makes things worse – would take much longer. Indeed, I am still working on it. But even though I won’t see many people this Christmas, I will make the effort to pick up the phone and try as hard as I can to open up, knowing that that is what defines a good relationship. And I will raise a glass of prosecco to the ones I love, wherever they are, with a toast: “Support bubbles for my support bubble. Merry Christmas.”


Coco Khan

The GuardianTramp

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