Europeans Learn Responsible Drinking

by Jeff Frantz

The 21st-birthday bar tour -- it's a staple of American life.

You blow out the candles, go to a bar, drink, vomit, pass out. You laugh the next day when your friends remind you what happened. It is the ritual -- but a distinctly American ritual.

Elsewhere in the world, age 21 ain't nothing but a number, and similarly, alcohol does not receive the same cultural stigmas.

In most European countries, drinking ages are either lower -- someone can drink in Germany or the United Kingdom at 18, for example -- or non-existent. And while toddlers are not served, carding patrons is rare.

Also, alcohol is shelved next to soda and crackers.

Nevertheless, in the minds of some Penn State students from Europe, these differences allow drinking to be a regular part of life and not something reserved for weekend nights.

Consequently, they say that while binge drinking does happen, pounding shots is a less common occurrence.

"You're allowed to drink earlier in Europe so you get used to experiences with alcohol earlier, so when you're 18, you're more responsible about it and can take care of yourself and your friends," said Torben Krueger, a graduate student (English and kinesiology) from Germany.

Basically, it is a difference of philosophy. In Europe, the consensus is that when alcohol is not exiled into a corner of society, it is demystified, and therefore a less alluring vice.

"It's hard to get alcohol [in America], so when kids get drunk they don't know how to handle it, because they don't have access to it at home," said Michal Jelinek, a graduate student (mechanical engineering) from the Czech Republic.


*Reprinted by permission of the Collegian (Pennsylvania State University), 2-2-04. Original title was “Experience makes young Europeans more responsible about drinking.”