Sitting atop a high bar stool at a local smoky pub you overhear the people sitting next to you discussing the latest military strike in Iraq, and as the bartender plops down a rich, dark amber colored beer with a 4 inch frothy head, you realize that you’re not the only one who can easily spot your typical American style. You begin to wonder, why isn’t loud pop music drowning out the conversations? Where are all the girls (if you’re not one of them already) with heavy dark eye makeup, halter-tops and micro mini skirts? And how come this beer is so dark that I can’t see through the glass? Can somebody please get me a Bud Light and a shot of Jack immediately?
When comparing the drinking culture of America to those of other Westernized countries such as Australia and most of Western Europe, it’s easy to see how lost an American; who’s used to keg stands, beer pong and body shots, might feel in a more laid back, social-drinking atmosphere.
“When you go out to the bar here [in the U.S.] most people dress and act like they’re either trying to hook-up, or at least get some drunken attention,” said Maggie Andrews, an international relations and German junior. While studying abroad last summer in Germany, Maggie noticed many differences in their drinking habits right away. “It wasn’t unusual to see people at a bar or pub in the middle of the afternoon having a couple drinks, and when we did go out at night the atmosphere was still just as casual as it had been at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.”
[beer] Words like “casual” and “social” are often used to define the drinking culture of other Westernized countries because of the way drinking has been socialized into their daily lives. For instance, meeting friends for one or two pints after work is a normal depiction of drinking in countries like England, while going to the bar to get “wasted” is more characteristic of American culture. While it is not uncommon to see men and women in business suits in European bars, you will rarely find boys with upturned collared polo shirts, or girls in thigh-high pointy black boots.
Excluding Great Britain and Australia, other Westernized countries, mostly European, rarely enforce drinking restrictions on teenagers and sometimes even children. In France, wine is commonly served with lunch and dinner to children as young as 6, and even offered in most schools. This could be one reason for differing attitudes about alcohol among Americans and other Western nations. Another possible reason has to do with the drinking age.
Since drinking laws in the United States say that anyone under 21 consuming, purchasing or in possession of alcohol is committing a crime, underage drinking is often associated with “taboo” or rebellious behavior. If kids are able to get their hands on alcohol then you better believe they aren’t going to pour themselves one or two leisurely drinks. The habit of drinking to “get drunk” often overlaps as American teenagers grow up and can legally drink in bars and clubs.
This stereotype tends to follow Americans as they travel outside of the country. Heather Grabowski, a marketing and supply chain management junior who is currently studying abroad in Australia, said she has been confronted with the stereotypes on several occasions. “Americans are perceived as loud, obnoxious and blunt…especially when we’re drinking”, she said. “Even though drinking is a huge part of Aussie culture, they still think Americans are the ones who party really hard.”
Americans aren’t faced only with this perception outside of the country, but foreigners visiting the United States also notice the reinforcement of the stereotypes. The behavior of (often underage) people drinking in the United States can also become dangerous.
“When you ban something or restrict its distribution you drive it underground,” said Gareth Clayton a 22-year old international student from England. Drinking is a part of the college experience but because nearly all university students are over the age of 18 (the legal age for drinking in the United Kingdom). In England kids aren’t getting arrested for underage drinking or feeling the need to binge drink, he said.
Drinking and driving is another issue he’s noticed since attending the University of Arizona. Instead of walking from bar to bar downtown, underage drinkers often drive from a house party on one side of campus to another on the opposite side, because the spread out nature of campus makes walking undesirable.
“Underage drinking has been driven into a very dark corner in the U.S.,” Clayton said. “Much of that can be attributed to the way drinking has been socialized into American culture.”
Of course there are plenty of people in Europe and Australia who go out drinking for the purpose of getting drunk, drive under the influence of alcohol and even get “loud and obnoxious” in bars. Stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. Even though the majority of a population is viewed under the “typical” behavior of their society doesn’t mean that many people don’t still choose to deviate from the norm. Who knows, maybe someday the stereotype of drinking culture in America will settle down and become more “laid back?” But for now throw on your mini skirt, pop your collar, and start double fisting those 40s because the “party-hard” atmosphere doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

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