My first encounter with a group of rowdy Australians was on the ferry from Ancona to Patras in 1987. In those days my knowledge of Australian culture was inexistent and the three days spent on the deck of the ferry opened my eyes to a world of a group culture I admired and feared. Unruly games, unintelligible jokes, exuberant songs all topped with lots and lots of beer and other alcoholic concoctions. My friend and I watched from the outside but we found ourselves being drawn to this wild, new world and before we new it, we were in it. A gentle soul took us under his wing and became our educator, explaining to us, in very simple english, how Australians loved groups and drinking.
Since I started this blog I have being wanting to write about the drinking culture in Australia. The different approach to drinking definitely classifies as one of the more obvious cultural differences between Italy and Australia but I have been concerned about sounding too critical or condescending in expressing my views.
My family (and possibly my friends too) roll their eyes whenever the subject comes up and I have to admit that I have a tendency to rant about it for a little too long. So this is why I approach this subject with a bit of apprehension and I hope I will do it justice.
That ferry trip came to my mind this morning and it forced me to see the matter with different eyes. The eyes of a 22 years old, discovering a brand new world, where drinking beer meant, beside vomiting off the deck for hours and snogging strangers, a shared experience and an undeniable, if a bit superficial, sense of belonging.
Australians love to identify themselves with their passion for drinking. When I say that I don’t drink people look confused and sometimes disappointed. I used to feel the need to justify myself but lately I just let them draw their own conclusions. I might be a recovering alcoholic or an extremist teetotaller (please grant me the use of this word, ever since I’ve heard it I have been wanting to put it in a written sentence, I wouldn’t dare to pronounce it though 😉 ), whatever they think I hope it will envelop me in an air of mystery!
The first time Nigel came to Italy we went out to a bar with a group of friends and ordered a beer. Yes…that was it…one beer. Nigel sat patiently waiting for the next round but it never came. We don’t do “rounds” in Italy.
My mum finds this love a beer quite endearing and she never fails to buy a couple of bottles whenever Nigel’s visit. I guess is her way of making him feel at home!
Last year Julia turned 18 and the first thing she did was going to the bottle shop to buy a bottle of champagne. She wanted to have the thrill of buying alcohol legally! She was a bit disappointed because she wasn’t asked for her id.
Growing up in a country where there was never any prohibition I struggle to understand her excitement. We did get drunk at parties but we didn’t have to sneak alcohol hidden in paper bags.
Drinking is part of every celebration at the end of high school, being the celebration in the morning, afternoon or evening and after exams there is a whole week of “schoolies” when kids go away to a party and, of course, drink.
The first week of university, orientation week, is spent going to barbecues and drinking, on campus, while subscribing to different clubs where you will be able to get, amongst other things, cheap drinks.
I remember women talking dreamily about the glass of wine they will drink when they got home after our morning playgroup meetings and parents laughing amiably at their children’s 18th birthday speeches, while they talked about the great achievement of finally being able to get thrashed in pubs.
It is not uncommon to see people walking with big slabs of beer on their way to a barbecue or a picnic in the park.
From the age of 16 kids find ways to have fake IDs so they can go to pubs and clubs. Most parents know it and give their blessing. I’d like to think that some of these kids want to go to pubs and clubs to listen to bands and dance, not drink. But they can’t do it legally.
As a 22 years old, Australians and their drinking culture might have had a certain appeal but as an adult I fail to comprehend a society that put such strong rules on drinking for minors while accepting, and on occasions even glorifying, drinking in adults.
I conclude by saying that this is not a post about “in Italy is better because we do things different”, in fact I am not sure that, having a very different approach to alcohol, the situation is actually better in Italy. In fact I hear the problem of youth drinking is growing.