COLUMN: Europe has different alcohol culture

Tessa Duvall

I’m 20. I can’t legally buy alcohol in America.

Good thing I’m not in America.


I’m in Europe, and 20 is more than old enough to drink over here. Alcohol has nothing to do with the reason I chose to study abroad, but it certainly hasn’t taken away from the experience.

Europe has a completely different culture when it comes to alcohol. People don’t necessarily drink to get drunk, although that’s not to say they don’t get drunk. They casually drink their wine as they eat their meals and have a couple of ales as they hang out with friends.

American college students, on the other hand, don’t casually drink – we party.

And my class at Harlaxton has become notorious for partying the hardest of any class in recent years.

The very first night on campus, despite sleepless nights spent on cramped planes and jet lag, we partied. The Bistro, the pub in the basement of the manor, was packed, which made for some great people watching.

There were two very distinct groups of people. The first were the people who were comfortable around alcohol, who knew exactly which beer to order.

And then there were the people who had clearly never drank before. Many of them idled at the menu board before deciding what to order, while others held their Smirnoff Ice awkwardly, unsure of what to do once they had it.

After four months of watching the same people drink, I’ve noticed a couple of patterns.

First, if you’re the type of person who drinks until you pass out in dorm lounges, injures yourself on broken bottles or throws up at the party, you’ll be that person abroad.

Or, if you’re the person who has never drank a drop of liquor and never wants to, you’ll be that person here.

Secondly, if you don’t drink much, but want to drink more, then you will. By no means is it hard for under-21s to drink in the States, but it’s even easier in Europe. You walk into a pub, order your drink, and you get it. You’re rarely carded, and alcohol is cheap.

As a college student, being around alcohol is nothing new for me, but the sheer availability of it is. In Grantham, my English Meet-a-Family routinely offered me wine, and in Scotland, a friend of my aunt and uncle’s took me to a pub to try Scotch. I’d be willing to bet that neither my parents nor my aunt and uncle would ever give me alcohol in a similar way. (Sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true.)

I’ve tried to make my relationship with alcohol a cultural one while abroad. In Munich, Germany, I drank the locally brewed Paulaner beer with my dinner of sausages and sauerkraut, and in France, a glass of Bordeaux became my drink of choice.

But, that’s not to say that 90 pence shots and pints of Strongbow didn’t have their place in my study abroad experience, because they did. Given the opportunity, my friends and I would go to the bars in town, drink, dance and have a good time. (Sorry again, Mom.)

However, these nights did not define my time abroad.

What defined my time abroad were the people I met, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night as I left the Louvre, walking through Norway in single-digit temperatures and proudly holding my Red Towel in front of the ruins of the Parthenon.

The last four months have been full of nights I’ll never forget, not nights I can’t remember.