For many University of Dallas students, the Rome semester provides a first exposure to the European culture of drinking. Sipping from a stein alongside a friendly Bavarian family in Munich’s Augustiner beer garden (home to what is objectively the best beer in the world) was enough to open my eyes to a much older and healthier way to enjoy alcohol. That shady grove brimming with picnic tables, wooden barrels and laughing families flashes across my vision every time I walk into a chain-linked cage reserved for 21-and-ups at most college events. I doubt I am the first American college student to feel dismayed by such a comparison, but it is worth pondering the source of America’s sour attitude when it comes to drinking.
Cultures like that of Bavaria – more especially the wine-drinking peoples of France and Italy – exude a generally positive attitude toward alcohol. In such places, drinking plays a role in normal everyday life; it is integrated into mealtimes, social activities and celebrations. And despite consuming more alcohol than almost anywhere else in the world, societies like Italy’s have been shown to have significantly fewer alcohol-related problems when compared with cultures expressing negative or inconsistent beliefs and expectations about drinking. The hard data suggests that in cultures that integrate traditional, everyday drinking, people are less likely to engage in episodic drinking.
In my opinion, our society looks at alcoholic beverages in a wildly wrong-headed way, and it is a self -perpetuating problem. Rather than having a glass of wine with lunch and dinner, our alcohol consumption remains largely reserved for “celebratory” drinking. Certainly, drinking plays a legitimate role in most special occasions, but there’s a difference between drinking as a part of a celebration and celebrating as an excuse to drink. Judging by the statistic that 40 percent of American college students have engaged in binge drinking once in the past two weeks, we must be pretty good at creating fake occasions. (Gotta get down on Friday?)
To put it in stark terms, for the average Italian, alcoholic beverages are food. Drinking is expected but drunkenness is taboo. To the average American college student, alcohol is a recreational drug; its consumption signifies the transition from work to play and, judging by the fact that Bud Light and Corona top the sales charts, taste is not a priority. That being said, students at the University of Dallas represent a ray of hope for our society. Many of us have been exposed to the warm, rich taste of Italian wine and the pleasure of enjoying it with a three-hour meal alongside our best friends. We have the opportunity to bring home from our travels a healthier perspective on how to enjoy drinking. If we do, our offense at wristbands, metal railings and chain-linked cages is entirely justified. That being said, if happy hour at TGIT is the first drink you’ve had since last Saturday, it’s no great wonder, my friend, that they put you in a cage.