American drinking: An international view of Unofficial

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People crowd outside KAMS on the afternoon of Unofficial. Festivities start as early as 6 a.m. for some, who celebrate with a day of drinking at campus bars and parties.

By Lillian Barkley

While Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day isn’t marketed as part of their study abroad experience here, international students take on the day same as domestic. But for some, the buildup seems exaggerated.

“In Italy, we don’t even celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, so there’s nothing like this,” said Sofia, an exchange student in LAS who has chosen to remain anonymous.

Sofia, along with her friend Emma, a Belgian exchange student in Media, experienced their first Unofficial on Friday, beginning at 11 a.m. The women didn’t quite understand the desire of drinking in the early hours of the day.

“I think it’s just so funny that people set their alarms at 6 o’clock — like why would you get out of your bed at 6 o’clock just to drink?” said Sofia, who skipped her class that day to fully embrace the C-U holiday.

While getting lunch — for the purpose of not drinking on an empty stomach — they saw what they deemed to be the most shocking part of the day: the police presence.

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    “There were even undercover cops in our dining hall,” Emma said.

    The women said that while a police presence is common at Italy and Belgium’s nightlife scenes, they did not expect to see the mass numbers of police patrolling campus on Unofficial.

    From her experience in Belgium, Emma said police tend to intervene only in extreme scenarios, including students puking in the streets or public urination. Typically, rowdy drunks will be picked up and put in jail for the night, but it doesn’t go on a record and is meant to keep drunks off the streets.

    “I never had problems with it. Like here, everyday you’re in contact with police and showing your ID. I’m so aware of it now,” she said. “I never had to show my ID. Here, I have to show it every time.”

    This poses a problem for international students, both Sofia and Emma said, because bars won’t accept a national ID, only a passport which contains the students’ visas. For the women, the problem is that losing a visa can result in a expensive and extensive process to replace it.

    Checking IDs is a lenient practice in Italy, according to Sofia — bars occasionally permit people as young as 13. Though the legal age for serving alcohol in Italy is 16, most people start drinking when they are 14 or 15, she said.

    Sofia and Emma identified this as the root difference in drinking styles between Europe and the U.S.

    “It’s so funny you get to do all this stuff: you get a driver’s license, you fall in love, some people even get married at the age of 18 in America, and you’ve never had a drink!” Emma said.

    She said because of the earlier drinking age, she knew her limits and was less inclined to drink in excess because she knew how it affected her.

    “Here people drink more because ‘Oh my god, I want to get drunk’ and that was something I did when I was 16 or 17,” she said.

    Now that she is about to start working at the end of the semester, Emma said going out and getting drunk isn’t something she could do or even wants to do, especially because she has been able to drink for nearly eight years.

    But the low drinking age isn’t always a positive thing, Sofia said. At that age, she believes kids are immature mentally and physically.

    “No one ever gave me a PowerPoint presentation on the dangers of alcohol,” Emma said. “I don’t think there is a good way. It’s just a drug, you know? It’s a really bad drug, and I think people should be more aware … about the damages it can do.”

    From the halls of their dorm room to bus advertisements, warning signs about the possible consequences of drinking on Unofficial appeared everywhere.

    The two started their day at an apartment party with other international students before heading to the bars for a day of jello shots, vodka and beer, they said.

    “When we went to Murphy’s and it was like $2.50 for a vodka with something, and I was like, ‘Oh, she’s mistaken, I’m not going to say anything,’ but she wasn’t mistaken. It was really so cheap,” Emma said.

    In Europe, getting a beer could cost around eight euros, while $1 shot specials in certain campus bars are extremely cheap, costing about an eighth of a euro, they said.

    According to the women, even on a typical night, they wouldn’t start drinking until midnight, while it seems like everyone here was wasted and then home by 2 p.m. on Friday, they said.

    “It’s noon; it’s 1 o’clock. What am I doing?” Emma said of day drinking, a hallmark of Unofficial. “It’s just funny, you also start partying so much earlier.”

    By 9 p.m., the two stopped drinking and were ready to go home. While they saw groups of people dressed in green staggering down the street, they said it was innocent and funny.

    “We weren’t drunk drunk drunk. We knew what we were doing,” Emma said. “I really had a lot of fun, I wish we had it in Belgium.”

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