Drinking culture in Europe is vastly different from the drinking culture in the United States. I find that the drinking culture in American colleges serves the purpose getting drunk. Most American college students do not want to drink casually. We tend to drink as much as we can in order to have the best time possible. Generally, we do not touch alcohol otherwise. The most casual drinking we are exposed to tends to be our parents having a rum and tonic after dinner, or a few glasses of wine during dinner.
Things are much, much different across the pond. The art of casual drinking is one that is greatly appreciated, no matter where you go. It is normal to have a pint or two every night at the pub. Back home, if I told people I went to Mugz’s every night for a few drinks, my friends would send me to the Office of Substance Abuse Prevention. Mugz’s and a British pub have vastly different atmospheres, the basic principle of drinking remains the same: you do not have to get hammered when you drink.
This can lead to some problems with American exchange students. A culture of regular drinking combined with a lower drinking age means it is easy to get carried away, and I have been guilty of this myself. There have been a few weeknights where I have decided to have a glass of wine with my dinner and suddenly the bottle is gone by 8:30 p.m. It is not the end of the world to have a few nights like this, of course, but being abroad makes it easier for drinking to become a habit.
This problem tends to reveal itself on the weekends. During our pre-study abroad seminars, we all rolled our eyes when we heard how American students have been been belligerent and caused problems abroad. “That won’t be us, so whatever,” we thought. But it is true. American students do drink more when abroad.
A study from the University of Washington for Psychology of Addictive Behaviors reported that students tend to double their alcohol consumption while abroad, from an average of four drinks a week to eight. Eric Pederson, one of the authors of the study, said while they were unable to determine in what capacity the students drank, the fact remains that the students in the survey drank more while abroad. This does not come as a surprise, especially considering American college students have a reputation of drinking heavily in the first place.
However, this does not mean that Europeans do not enjoy night life. Some of my favorite memories from my time abroad include singing Katy Perry’s “Firework” at 2 a.m. in a bar in Rome arm-in-arm with a random Italian and taking shots with a group of Irish engineering students at a house party in Dublin. There is definitely still a culture of going out and having a great time that is similar to the U.S. But this, in hand with the casual drinking culture, usually leads to an overall higher alcohol consumption overall from college students studying abroad.
The drinking culture abroad differs from American drinking culture, in my experience, because of how acceptable it is to drink regularly. This can be both a good or bad thing, depending on your self-control. This culture of drinking has given me a greater appreciation for a cold beer after a long day’s work, but it has also taught me how to handle my drinking and how to do so in moderation—skills that will prove to be increasingly useful following my college years.