How to be British: DRINK!

photo by Martin Cathrae

One of the many things I enjoyed when I visited Copenhagen was their refined attitude to alcohol and their civilised drinking culture. Not only was it no more expensive than in London, but alcohol was actually drunk for social purposes. And by social, I mean sitting in a pub, listening to a live band and laughing at clever jokes, rather than standing in a darkened room, sweating, and dancing AT someone you can barely hear speak.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a student and my first year was one of the greatest of my life. Yet, the idea of drinking TO get drunk, rather than to socialise, is something which sets us apart widely from some of our European counterparts. Alcohol holds negative connotations in the UK; we are known for our outrageous binge-drinking (however enjoyable it can be), and it has led to some extreme health issues and even death.

Take the no-drinking zone in Loughborough. It intends to reduce rowdy students’ disruption of peaceful town life and decrease the amount of smashed glass and empty cans littering the street. This is fine, however it immediately puts drinking and alcohol in a negative light. In Copenhagen, however, it is normal to buy a few cans of Rekorderlig from a local newsagent and drink these in the street. This implies that Denmark does not assume their population is going to be sick in somebody’s garden on their way home, throw their vodka bottles in the road and shout chants until the early hours.

Now, it is true that Denmark still has a binge-drinking culture and its population is significantly more than the wine-drinking countries such as France and Spain. Studies have found that the Danish 15-16 year olds maintain their position (along with the UK, of course!) as European record-holders when it comes to drinking and drunkenness. Yet, perhaps these teenagers grow out of this sort of immaturity and antisocial behaviour which Britain’s young people are still engaging in after they reach their 21st birthday.

Perhaps it is something to do with our reactions to drinking. Many students report that they feel ‘relaxed, happy, friendlier and outgoing’ after consuming alcohol, yet students in Romania, Italy and Portugal are anxious of getting a hangover, regretting activities later or feeling sick. Paradoxically, however, it is these qualities which many Brits seem to revel in. Drinking societies encourage people to consume so much alcohol that they physically throw up, people are encouraged to go back with someone and ignore whatever regrets they may have in the morning, and a hangover is just a great starting point for a Facebook status the next day.

These issues with drinking in European countries have meant that the youth alcoholism has been seen as a ‘fundable research problem’. Drinking is fun, there’s no doubt about that, but the way it is done in many other countries just seems more…well, stylish. I’d much rather be seen as a mysterious Dansk young woman, wrapped up in snug winter clothes, sipping on a well-poured Guinness, than a half-dressed, doubly-made up, catastrophic mess of a ‘teenager’.

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