Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Drunkenness

I didn’t even think about drinking alcohol in high school. Most of my friends weren’t into it, and for a long time the concept of drinking kind of freaked me out-it was something that belonged in movies and on the Facebook pages of the too-cool-for-school kids I knew. I’m turning 21 at the end of February, though, so I’ve suddenly been thinking all about the drinking scene-the glamorous, grown-up, legal one that probably exists only in my head.

What’s it like to be in a bar? What’s the protocol for even ordering a drink at said bar? Do martinis actually taste good? Why is this whole drinking thing even such a big deal in the first place?

That last question has been stuck in the back of my head lately. Every other one has an answer, but why do I even ask them? What’s the big deal with going out for a drink, after all? Maybe it’s a big deal simply because we’ve turned it into one. The Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), based in Oxford, England, did a global study in which researchers looked into how different countries perceive alcohol and how those perceptions affected the drinking culture in each.

Unsurprisingly, every country had a slightly different attitude toward drinking. It’s considered akin to a drug and connected, at least in people’s minds, to violent behavior in the U.S. Most Mediterranean and European countries, on the other hand, generally attach an often peaceful connotation to alcohol. It’s interesting, then, that the U.S. has higher rates of alcohol-related problems, while countries like Ireland-long considered the home of the perpetually tipsy-have fewer issues.

So is drinking really only an issue because we make it one? I wouldn’t be surprised. The Italian side of my family drinks homemade wine with lunch and dinner every day. To them, that’s normal-they held onto a part of Italian culture in which drinking isn’t a big deal, but rather, something to do with family and friends when you’re eating together or just hanging around. A drink has a much different place in most of American society.

Every semester, Boston College students who come back from studying abroad in the UK remark on how differently students there treat drinking. Sure, they say, every once in a while someone gets a little too wild. Most of the time, though, it seems like the Brits can hold their liquor-because they don’t drink a whole lot of it to begin with.

So drinking in general might be this hyped-up, taboo thing simply because we as Americans have decided that it is precisely that. Then what’s the story on our fascination with bars? If any underclassman can subvert the system by having a complaisant 21-year-old friend buy him or her some cheap booze, what’s the allure of having to dress up and leave the comfort of your dorm for a drink?
As it turns out, the only thing that SIRC study found in common across all countries is that it’s socially unacceptable to drink alone.

Whether you’re drinking a cocktail or a beer, you’re supposed to be drinking it with friends, or at least in a public place. It’s weird to mix yourself a rum and Coke if you’re not mixing one up for someone else as well, but in a bar, it seems like you can waltz in and order one of the very same thing without suffering strange glances from everyone else there. That’s the thing-there’s someone else there, whether you know him or her or not, who is sitting there drinking “with” you. It creates a social connection.

It also seems to go without saying that bars-places whose sole purpose is to sell alcohol and make you stay in the building to drink it-are just as mysterious. You can party with your friends whenever, but you can only party in a bar if you’ve reached the right age. It’s grown-up, mature, and puts you on a completely different level than your 20-and-below peers.

Do we really have anything to fear when it comes to alcohol? Chances are that most BC students would probably say no. With proper education and a change in attitude, alcoholic drinks could be no more threatening than sodas. Is all the hype about the bar scene worth it? I’ll have to get back to you in March about that one.

February 2, 2014