American student: enjoying a beer in Prague is a whole different story

15-06-2013

As an American student travelling to a foreign country, it is easy to sound like a “wide-eyed” tourist when discussing the abundance of cultural differences that are observed. However, when it comes to the drinking culture in Prague, young Americans are like kids in a candy store.

Photo: Barbora KmentováPhoto: Barbora Kmentová The vast differences in the Czech culture of drinking leaves an American college student travelling here in a utopia of social freedom. Hailing from the ‘land of the free’, I somehow get a sense of renewed sovereignty when I walk around the streets of Prague. It is more than just the fact that at age 20, I can drink and purchase alcohol at my leisure; it is about the attitude of the people of this city, as well. Citizens are relaxed and usually keep to themselves, while the police are generally helpful if someone finds themselves in a bind.

In Philadelphia, where I have lived my whole life, it is illegal to purchase, transport, or drink liquor under the age of 21. This law has been questioned for decades now, mainly because no one follows it. However, unlike the relaxed people of Prague and the Czech Republic in general, the United States has created a vortex of paranoia and binge drinking in underage people that causes more harm than the alcohol itself. What I mean by this is that moderation is a difficult thing to accomplish when the substance is not readily available. At home, a party consists of getting “as drunk as possible, as fast as possible” simply to get rid of evidence that drinking had taken place. The implications of the hawk-eyed cops in the States and their excessive fines and penalties cause people to constantly look over their shoulders when trying to have a good time while the police in Prague, arguably, would rather young adults just get home safe. In the United States, the age of 18 is, by law, when a person becomes an adult. One can vote, serve in the army, purchase property, but for some reason, can’t have a cocktail. They want us to act like adults, but make it very hard to do so.

Here in Prague, I have found myself enjoying a beer or two over dinner and being satisfied rather than feeling it necessary to drink more volume in a small window of time when it is available. The laid back nature of the society gives me the option to moderate my consumption, and thus I am able to make more responsible decisions.

That being said, this relaxed nature does not come without consequences. The Czech Republic ranks annually in the top 5 countries for percent of underage drinkers, which is a considerable problem. This made me realize that the United States and the Czech republic sit on opposites sides of the world’s spectrum both figuratively and literally. While the US and the Czech Republic are examples of two extremes in terms of alcohol regulation, there are many countries that lie between them that have somehow gotten closer to a middle ground. Germany and Holland, two countries I have visited, had noticeably more restrictions on where alcohol could be sold and who it could be sold to; however, there was still a sense of calmness about the issue. On one hand, I was asked for a valid ID in places like Amsterdam and Munich, where the drinking age is 18, but on the other hand, I did not see police stopping anyone for drinking allegations.

Perhaps the Czechs are still relishing in their post-communist freedoms and the United States is becoming a more overbearing parent state, but neither is a good solution. There are countries out there with models that both the Czechs and the Americans could follow. There is a wide spectrum of possibilities regarding this issue and I believe both countries will have to meet in the middle to solve their domestic drinking problems.

15-06-2013