One of the interesting things about travel is you get to see how people in other countries and cultures handle situations so much differently than the way things are done back home.
In this case, just a couple of weeks ago we were in Quebec City, Canada, (an amazing place to visit by the way, for more info click here) and whenever we would order wine with dinner, after the waiter poured a glass for both of us, he would ask if our 15-year-old daughter wanted some as well. When we informed them of her age, we got the reply that it didn’t really matter what her age was as long as we were OK with it.
It should have come as no surprise, since Quebec City is the most European city in North America. (To listen to our radio show about it, click here.) Everybody speaks French as a first language (but they’re happy to switch to English) and the streets in the old city sitting below the Chateau Frontenac (pictured above) are hundreds of years old. When we’d traveled to European countries such as France and Spain, liquor was everywhere at all times of the day and night. Small children ran in and out of bars. When we went to a business lunch and didn’t order a martini, our hosts seemed offended. (We easily relented.) One of our favorite memories was walking down the street in Barcelona and seeing a nun in full habit working on a Big Gulp sized glass of Sangria - AT NOON! (Our favorite place to get a pitcher of Sangria in SLC is Cafe Madrid.) It was pretty much the same in Quebec City, where the rule at restaurants seems to be one bottle of wine for every two people, and if you don’t finish the whole thing, the waiter is unsure what planet you come from or what to do with it.
But while liquor was all over the place, the people were not. Other than some some stupid American frat boys on vacation, we never once saw any of the locals engaging in “drunk” behaviors. No loud voices in restaurants. No staggering along the street. No being belligerent to other people just because you think that the next morning you can use the excuse, “Sorry, I was drunk.” People handled their adult beverages like adults.
In that setting, it’s no wonder people have no problem with teenagers drinking with their parents. In fact, it’s hard to think of a better way to de-glamorize drinking than to make teenagers drink with their parents. How uncool is that? While you’ve got them at the table, you might as well start telling them about how they need to start putting money in a 401(k). A woman we met in Montreal (another great city to visit) told us that when she went to college, she and her friends who had grown up in the Quebec province couldn’t understand why kids from the other Canadian provinces were binge drinking. There was nothing exciting about alcohol for the Quebec kids, who’d already been having wine with their parents for years.
Contrast that with the common attitude in America, where you’re not really drinking unless you PARTY! - meaning you need to have lots of loud music, binge drinking, sloppy behavior and people passing out. People well over the legal age of 21, seem to feel the need to drink like, well, a bunch of 15-year-olds. In that setting, the last thing you’d want to do is serve teenagers, and it’s easy to see why some people would want to regulate alcohol availability in general.
So are we advocating that the cure to teen binge drinking is having parents and teens drink together? No, because it could never work in America. (In case you were wondering, we didn’t let our daughter engage in the local tradition in Quebec.) It works in places like Spain and Quebec because there is an overall societal norm of responsible use of alcohol beyond the family table that doesn’t exist here, and isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Some things from Europe, like soccer, midday siestas and capris for men, take a long time to catch on in the States, and sometimes for good reason.
Still, travel gives you the chance to bring what you learned from other cultures back home and give it a try here. There’s an old joke about Utah liquor laws and “making adulthood legal in Utah.” If you want to be treated like an adult, make sure you’re drinking like one.
The Travel Tramps write regularly about their treks near and far in City Weekly, as well as blogging at CityWeekly.net. You can also listen to Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin on the weekly Travel Brigade Radio Show at TravelBrigade.com.