The Drinking Age Conundrum


I’ve always been of the opinion that restricting the legal drinking age to 21 in the US was just plain stupid. It defies logic and common sense. A person can be trusted to drive, vote, marry, serve in the armed forces, but he can’t have a glass of wine.
George F. Will wrote a convincing, fact-based article in the Washington Post.
My observations are more social and experience based.
A few years ago, we were at a dinner with friends in Italy, and I was speaking with a Dutch woman who raised her son in Italy. She was shocked and confused that we had such an extreme policy feeling that it was encouraging binge drinking and not teaching children how to handle alcohol. (A parallel would be denying that teens have sex, so just teach them abstinence.)
Children in Italy sip wine at meals and learn early the beauty, subtleties and dangers of alcohol.  There is very little binge drinking, or overtly drunken behavior. Except during our August festa when everyone cuts a bit looser than usual.  Drunken behavior is mocked and derided by the ragazzi.  Everyone talks about you the next day!   
Withholding alcohol until the age of 21 doesn’t encourage responsibility, it just reinforces the forbidden fruit concept, and makes it more alluring and dangerous.

Another consequence of this ill-advised policy is that our children don’t learn the culture of wine. They aren’t learning how to pair it and enjoy with food. They don’t know how to speak the language of wine. We were at a local wine tasting and competition in Italy; a very local tasting, it was wine made by our neighbors. We would taste and make comments, and even the 16 year olds took it seriously and made accurate comments about what they tasted.
Recently on eGullet there was a thread where people were complaining that servers didn’t know how to pour, or when to pour wine. How can the waiter be expected to know wine culture, if he has not been exposed to it?
All of this is just my long winded way of saying that I’m happy Mr. Will wrote this article and I hope it stimulates some dialogue and some acceptance of reality. Prohibition never, ever works.  Education works and it breeds responsibility.

1 Comment

  1. mitch on May 31, 2008 at 8:41 am

    And, imagine how long it will take them to learn how to make and enjoy a proper Manhattan, martini, daiquiri or old-fashioned…sinful.

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