For over four months, I drank beer, wine and cocktails with one of my good friends while we were studying abroad in Spain together. We’d go out for a couple of drinks most nights during the week, then go to a club or botellón (designated area of the city without an open-container law) on weekend nights. Luckily for me, I turned 21 while we were in Europe, but my friend just returned to the United States and has to wait a whole year before she can order a glass of wine again.
My humble opinion on the drinking age in our country: It makes drinking too big of a deal! In Europe, it is totally normal to have a glass of wine or a beer at dinner on a Monday night with your family if you’re not yet 21. Some countries let you purchase wine and beer at a younger age such as 16, then at 18 you can also buy liquor. This way, people can gradually get used to alcohol and figure out how much they can handle. (See: every single American’s first weekend away at college).
My Spanish friends didn’t understand why we kept talking about how cool it was that you can buy a beer in literally every restaurant, café and even stands on the sidewalk, in addition to the obvious bars and clubs. For them, alcohol is just a part of their culture (which it has been forever), and it’s not worth getting that excited about or trying to pour a whole bottle down your throat. Also, many places in Europe don’t have open-container laws, or they are limited, so it’s normal to walk around Paris with a beer in hand. They really enjoy it instead of drinking in order to get drunk.
For me, the main problem with us Americans not being allowed to buy booze until we’re 21 is that the vast majority doesn’t wait until they’re 21 to start drinking. Plain as day, we just don’t do it. So instead of being able to buy a few drinks throughout the night at a bar, we take as many shots as we can in the parking lot before going inside. When we go to a party, we won’t know if we’ll have access to more alcohol, so we make the strongest mixed drink we can tolerate, pack it in a water bottle (I know everyone reading this is nodding) and hope it gets us drunk enough for the night.
I would rather enjoy a good drink, then another if I want it, and this is how I now consume my alcohol. Sure, Spaniards (and I’m sure people from the rest of Europe) have some party nights where getting drunk is the goal, but in general they’re not as preoccupied with it as we are in America. They just always have some of it there and drink a beer as they’re spending time with friends.
So when I return this fall for my senior year of college, I’m sure I’ll pack a water bottle mixed drink every now and then because I’m simply too used to it to not. When I lived in Spain I kept trying to really live their culture in terms of alcohol, and I’m still trying. It just makes so much more sense!
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