Aussies like to drink. They take it seriously, and they don’t mess about with those that can’t hang. They seem to have something of an obsession with the cause of (and solution to) all life’s problems: alcohol. How do I know? I’ve been in Sydney for nearly two months and I’ve experienced all of the following.
No fewer than three people have told me that Americans need to drink more, and that perhaps this perceived lack of drinking has lead to us being more uptight than we could be. It happened in three disparate settings: a raucous sports bar, a table outside a coffee stand, and inside a class room. The speakers were varying ages, genders, and occupations. I’m not sure exactly where this repuation for being lightwieghts started, but clearly these Sydneysiders have never experienced a Tallahassee Thursday, smelled the putrid aftermath of an 8th Jaeger Bomb gone awry at a Brevard country Ladies Night, or seen an episode of Intervention. If they had, they would know that any problems the American people have with drink tend to flow more toward over- than under-consumption. So wither this reputation? Perhaps its a vestigial outgrowth of our Puritan heritage, or history of prohibition. Either way, I’m not convinced that we really are that prudish.
They do seem generally more tolerant of drinking to excess here. At the orientation for my exchange program, all the speaker’s jokes kept circling around to the liquor-fueled debauchery that awaited us as temporary UNSW students. It was kind of funny, but I can hardly imagine an official school function at any university in the U.S. where the speaker referred to Spring Break as “one week of being constantly drunk” and promise non-stop chugging. Granted, American universities as are currently pushing for a re-examination of the way deal with alcohol consumption by the 16-21 set. This is a long way from the Operation: Quiet Storm attempt during my undergrad days at Florida State, where roving task forces took to the streets in concerted effort to stamp out keg parties and downplay the status of FSU as a party school. But even so, I think fear of potential civil liability would keep them from mentioning the joys of inebriation in their addresses to incoming students. Mind you, I’m not offended and not complaining. I’m just noticing the differences. It seems to me that a lowered drinking age and at least some social acceptance of it would lead to less hypocrisy if nothing else. Though I’m long past the age at which it affected me, I have never been convinced that the 21st birthday magically confers a sense of maturity and responsibility. Aside from the whole “I can join the army and go to war, vote on the future of my country and smoke but I can’t order a beer?” argument, I think a younger age limit would allow people to get the more knucklehead stuff out of their systems earlier and lose their minds doing kegstands after they hit the big Two-One.
And at the same time, the Aussie’s don’t approach drunk driving with kid gloves, either. How hardcore are they? The other day I was walking through Paddington and came across a DUI checkpoint where they were randomly breathalyzing the stops. Nothing too unusual, except for the fact that this was going on in broad daylight. It was 11:00 on a sunny Tuesday morning and the Aussie po-pos were cracking down on the unwary. Not only does thism speak to the intensity of Australian police response to getting behind the wheel with too many shots under your belt, but is also indicitave of the verve with which the people embrace drinking. In the U.S., these checkpoints are usually set up on Friday and Saturday nights, a net for the unwary who crawl through the parking lot after last call. That’s when poeple tend to get drunk. Here: just before lunchtime at the beginning of the week.
I think this international culture clash requires further research. I will also do my part to uphold America’s reputation, trying to set these people straight one pint at a time.
Or schooner, I guess.