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  • The emigrant's destiny: The foreign country has not become home, but home has become foreign.

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    Emigranten-Schicksal: Die Fremde ist nicht Heimat geworden. Aber die Heimat Fremde.

    Between 2007 and 2009, I lived in Los Angeles after living in Paris for many years. My Paris blog (before and after my Los Angeles sojourn) is Rue Rude.

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    « Crocs: why? | Main | The grocery baggers and the shoeshine guys »

    25 September 2007


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    I do find that, living in London, there really is very little stigma about appearing drunk in public. Take a walk in Leicester Square on a Saturday night. And count the kids (and adults) unable to even walk because they've been drinking so much. I have not seen that in Paris -- although perhaps more energetic drinking goes on behind closed doors [sneak a peak at the monarchy-fest that is "Point de Vue" -- they chronicle the "rallyes" (society events for young teens of the aristocracy or haute bourgeoisie) and some of these young tykes do look a little worse for wear at times!].

    In Britain right now there is a big debate about binge drinking and how the government should legislate against it. Personally, I think the British government legislates too much as it is. I also think that the idealized view of drinking in sunny, quaint cafés overlooking the Champs-Elysées or the beach with a happy group of family and friends cannot be easily replicated in the UK. Why? Because (a) people leave home at 18 (thrilled to get away from their parents) and rarely, if ever, go back; (b) the weather is colder and greyer; and (c)where, frankly, the culture is a hard-drinking one, in line with other Northern European countries.

    For example, it was a rite of passage when I was a teenager and went to school here: get invited to your first party with boys, get riotously drunk. I hear that for boys, the pressure to booze it up is even greater.

    And, of course, the drinking rite-of-passage may have given way to the drugs rite-of-passage in more recent years.

    Separation of ages among families and friends could play a part, Sedulia. Although upon occasion I have seen parents with small children get wildly drunk. this might have been a "class" thing, though. Possibly an under-educated, permanently unemployed, underclass of people who tend to have children very young. The parents could not have been older than 20 in this instance.

    Anyway! I'm sure that is more than you ever wanted to know about drinking in Britain, so I will stop now! LOL!

    Hi Sedulia, I've been reading your blog(s) since some point in 2006/Rue Rude, although I've never gotten around to leaving any kind of comment... Wow, I really hope this doesn't come across as creepy! ;)

    Anyway, I can tell you from personal experience that the phenomenon of "pre-gaming" is indeed done by underage students in an attempt to get around the law, it continues beyond that, and it isn't the only reason it is done. I'm 22 years old and I can tell you that even when students pass 21, they continue to pre-game. Yoou'll find Grad students, Med students, etc, continuing to do this. Part of it is because it's "tradition" i.e. they're simply continuing a behavior pattern acquired when they were underage... Another big part of it, though, is money! It is a lot cheaper to buy alcohol at a store than it is at the bar... For example, I come from Long Island, and at the bars/lounges/clubs over there I'm used to paying on average $10 for a mixed drink, $10 for a shot, and $7 for a beer. This is a lot, particularly if you're a poor college student. Students have discovered it's much cheaper to buy alcohol at the store and drink it at home first before going out - that way they only have to buy one or two drinks at the bar.

    I've heard before your contention that young people in France don't go out to bars or get drunk so much, but to be honest, I'm not so sure that's always true. Granted, I didn't live in France for so long as you did, but my own (far more limited) experiences there have been a bit different.

    I studied in Aix last year and I can assure you, in spite of its high international student population, we saw our fair share of drunk Frenchmen. Our favorite bar was full most nigths of the week, and I'd say at least 80% of the clientele were natives (that - and how cheap it was - was one of the main reasons why it was our favorite spot, it was where the natives came and where we could actually talk to locals). Particularly on weekend nights the streets were filled with small groups of drunk students, many of them French as well. We didn't seem to see many people hanging out at cafes, but this is probably because everything closes so early there (with the exception of the one 24 hour cafe/restaurant, which was really overpriced, and the 24 hour bakery - which always had a line of drunk students waiting outside, and outside which we often got harrassed by drunk French guys and were offered "ecstasy coca light").

    It is of course entirely possible that these people simply drink and come to these places just to pick up drinking foreign girls... This would explain the disturbing overrepresentation of very creepy drageurs who stalk, harrass, and do not take "NON" (or even "casses-toi...!" or various other rude forms let lone polite refusals) for an answer out on the streets and in the bars/clubs. Our perfectly lovely language partners invited us to their house parties on a few occasions, and most of the people there were nice and decidedly uncreepy, a little drunk but not very wasted. Perhaps, my friends and I wondered, most nice French students simply do their drinking behind closed doors, at house parties and such. Some other French friends of ours that we had made didn't drink as much as we did at the bars, and told us they drank at home before. When they threw us a going away party in May they made much use of the Jack Daniels dispenser they had mounted on the wall and got very, very drunk. One of my host mothers had a fondness for whiskey, but I don't think I ever saw her drunk.

    Of course, Aix is a student town, and it is also seemingly in its own little bubble. The high prices and a trip to Marseille is enough proof that Aix is not exactly the real world... But my Parisian ex-boyfriend (who is now in his late 20s) did used to tell me that he spent a good portion of his late teens/early twenties taking care of drunk girls and that getting really drunk was something people did in Paris/France university in their late teens/early twenties, usually at house parties. My language partner last year confirmed that this was true in her experience too.

    I'm sure, however, that you would be entirely correct that they probably do not get drunk/binge drink as often and that their drinking habits are less unhealthy. I had to do extensive research a few years back for an Addiciton course I was taking on the genetic vs. social elements of alcoholism, particularly across different cultures. The customs and attitudes towards alcohol in Anglo culture are a recipe for alcoholism. This is true of the general culture and especially of the college sub-culture where everyone wants to be the life of the party. It is also true that in my many travels to the British Isles and my summer studying there a few years back, I have seen more publicly drunk people there than in any other place I've been.

    I think you're also right about the drinking with family issue. My mother has usually had a glass of wine with dinner as long as I can remember, my father often enough a beer with dinner. There was always some alcohol at holiday gatherings (we are Irish...) but no one ever gets really drunk there, and my parents always let me have tastes of whatever I wanted as a kid. I was permitted to have wine with dinner on a regular basis from age 15 or so onwards... As a result I never saw alcohol as having any kind of mystery or truly rebellious element to it. This doesn't, of course, mean I've never gotten drunk, but it probably would have happened younger and more often and more dangerously had this not been so. Separating drinking from family life is indeed an important factor. Another major one is the tendency of Anglo cultures to separate drinking from eating, whereas in Latin countries drinking has traditionally been in the context of meals. Another is the Anglo cultural tendency to see alcohol as something that one should have no contact with until adulthood and are expected to know how to handle it at once/with no experience, whereas in Latin countries they say that traditionally people learn how to handle alcohol at a young age. Yet another is the tendency to revere those who can drink a lot as being tough or "The Man"... This simultaneous portrayal of it as "sinful" in some way and impressive creates an aura of mystery over the "forbidden" substance.

    Ok, that's far too long already, I apologise!

    No, that was interesting, Allison. I visited France for the first time with a baby, so I've never experience the young single scene there. I do think drinking is worse in Anglo and northern European cultures, but I don't know if changing the rules to make pub hours longer or let families into the pubs would make a difference.

    Anyway, here in California, no one seems to drink. They have to get up to go running at 5:30.

    I am a bit late to comment on the topic... sorry. But I find it interesting so I hope you'll bare with me.
    Just so you can place me on the subject, I am a French girl, born and raised in France. So, as you said mentioned in you post, it is true that my parents have encouraged me to taste good wine when we had a good bottle at home since I was 13 or 14. Just a little sip you know, to get acquainted with good things.

    About underage drinking, my friends and I have been ordering "un demi pêche" (A half pint of beer with peach sirup) since high school. You know... on wednesday when we met at the café. So I guess it removed the idea of transgression you can find in other countries who ban underage drinking.

    Then prep school. Needless to say that even when going in a club, 2 whiskey-coke were enough for everybody.
    Then suddenly in Busines School, you drink to drink and get drunk. The way it seems it's done in anglo-saxon countries. For most of us it is a phase. 1 year and you get back to normal. You've certainly seen a lot about it on TV in France. Every year there is a time for this documentaries about these schools "sponsored" by liquor companies. I don't really know if it is recent and I don't know if we should make such a big deal about it. Most of us just got back to our normal way of drinking if I may say so. A good bottle on good occasion. But some are left on the side of the road. They started drinking too much, too easily and can now be considered as alcoholic. We were about 300 in my class and I know at least 3 addicts.

    So I just want to say that it seems that the anglo-saxon way is having a lot of success with students in France. Most of is grow out of it, unfortunately some don't.

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