Drinking culture shock

Imagine if you could drink beer anywhere you wanted during Frosh Week. Inside, outside, it doesn’t matter. Now that I’m doing a semester abroad at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, I’ve been exposed to these kinds of unique cultural differences for the first time.

For one thing, the people running events during their version of 101 Week are allowed to drink. On top of that, the drinking age here is 18, which means that their Frosh Week can include more alcohol-infused events and the majority of first years are allowed to indulge.

In my mind this is a recipe for disaster, since the people who are running events have to juggle managing  first years and holding their liquor at the same time. But maybe that’s just my “uptight” Canadian side talking.

I’m living in residence while on this exchange, so I’ve had the chance to see how residence works when there’s no restrictions on alcohol. The first time the security guards came walking by my room I, along with the American students on the floor, tried to hide our drinks. Of course the guard said nothing, and it was a bit surreal to be in residence and have people care so little about your drinking habits.

Besides Frosh Week and residence, there’s also the striking manner of how alcohol is sold here. It’s available much the same way as it is in Quebec, in grocery and corner stores. Often times hard liquors will be kept beyond the counter, but otherwise there doesn’t appear to be many restrictions on purchase.

I haven’t been living in the U.K. for very long, but I do get the sense that drinking, particularly going out to a bar, is much more socially acceptable here. While in Canada, it seems that going out to bars often during the week is viewed as a student or young professional thing, and not necessarily something for middle-aged folks.

The atmosphere also feels different here—bars are just busier, with a diverse clientele who seem totally at ease grabbing a few beers after work on any day of the week. I’m sure this doesn’t apply to the whole country, and probably doesn’t even apply to all of Canada, but it has been an interesting change of environment.

At the end of the day, alcohol consumption and distribution is not the only way to judge a country, but it definitely has served as an introduction to the kinds of cultural norms and values that really do vary from place to place.