We are Adults Too: 18 vs. 21

Since the day I stepped foot back on American soil, I can’t help but pick up on so many things that differ from these two places, Switzerland and Boston. My second home, and a place I now call home. As an American who grew up mostly outside of the US, I feel like a foreigner in my own country sometimes. This isn’t a bad thing, but rather something that I’ve never really experienced before in the US, as my usual visits here last a few weeks, as opposed to the few years I have ahead of me.

I’ve realized that I pick up on the strangest differences between the two places, as in not just the different language and food, as you’d think! The first week I was back I realized how nice it is to be able to understand (and eavesdrop on, sorry!) people speaking English around me all the time. In Switzerland I got very used to minding my own business, although I guess my lack of understanding Swiss-German didn’t really give me the choice!

Most of all though, and I could go on and on and on about this topic, I’ve been affected by the 21 drinking age, coming from the 16 and 18 drinking ages of Switzerland. Not because I “need” to drink, but because it is a privilege that has been taken away from me being back in the US. In Switzerland when you are 16, you can legally purchase and consume beer, wine and champagne; basically anything that isn’t hard liquor. Then at 18 you are legal to purchase and consume any alcoholic beverage. As I was a teenager in Switzerland, these are the laws I followed throughout High School. These laws are pretty widespread around Europe, with the exception of the split 16/18 privileges in Switzerland and after observing the behavior of teenagers in both Europe and the US it’s evident to me why these are the rules in so many places, and confuses me why these are still not the rules in the US.

I’ve noticed a trend in college drinking in the US, just in the month I’ve been here. Besides the reoccurring argument of “if I can get married, go to the army and drive a car when I am 18, why can’t I drink?”, I see an overlying, simple argument: why are 18 year adults being treated like children at all? Isn’t it kind of biased that adults who have very little concern with the situation are the dominant ones with the opinion on the issue? I understand it’s for further protection and safety, and in many cases it does solve many problems. But I believe it introduces new problems as well. In the end, if a young adult wants to drink whether it is legal or not, they will still find their way to do it. It’s almost inevitable, especially for International students who come to the United States and are revoked of such a privilege. Because of this, college students are forced to hide their actions. I’ve noticed that the results are actually far worse than those that I observed living in Switzerland, and through stories from my friends in University in Europe. College students going out to parties on the weekends, for example, often drink a high volume of alcohol in a small amount of time in their dorms, to make sure they stay drunk throughout the night without having to drink in public and worry about “getting in trouble”. This is binge drinking. It is one of, if not the biggest problem in universities around the United States. Whenever I see ambulances picking up drunk students from their dorms, I wonder why this is an ongoing issue here. Maybe if these students weren’t forced to hide their actions, and were able to drink at their own pace in public and legally, they wouldn’t feel forced to do it so drastically behind the scenes.

“If it is illegal, just don’t do it”. Of course there are always double standards to such a case. But it cannot be argued that part of the culture of college IS drinking, not just in the US but around the world. Our parents did it, our grandparents did it and it will continue to be just as prominent. It bothers me that the the information we are given in the media about the 21 drinking age mainly comes from middle aged adults, many of whom have no concern with this issue at all. So, this is my attempt at an insider’s view. As young adults this is OUR issue. We are adults too. Why don’t we think about it or talk about it more, rather than continue to act as the victims when we are faced with the consequences head on?

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One thought on “We are Adults Too: 18 vs. 21

  1. Great topic, Remi! I agree with you that the European approach is much more sensible and seems to work better. In my experience, allowing young people to start drinking legally at age 16 seems to help them to develop responsible drinking habits at an earlier age, and under the guidance of their parents. This removes the taboo and lure of drinking illegally and in hiding. Out in the open, and starting earlier creates more opportunities to teach and learn responsible drinking. By the age of 21, the ridiculous age at which Americans are just being allowed to drink legally, most European young adults are well past binge drinking, experimenting and drinking irresponsibly. It is really old news for them by then, while US young adults are just being let loose for legal consumption (and of course they start making up for lost time, with sometimes tragic consequences). I am with you – this is one of the most backwards laws in the US and I wonder why college campuses are not full of protest and outrage about this loss of freedom that you as an adult should rightfully enjoy. Remember also that you can only get your drivers license in much of Europe at age 18, so you do have to consider that in the argument. Public transport is readily available in Europe while most American teens and young adults have to drive to go out at night, which increases the risks of drunk driving. You are very lucky to be in a city that has a good public transportation option, so take advantage of it. All in all, it seems pretty clear to me that the current repressive drinking laws in the US are not really working, and perhaps it is time to try another approach. Certainly, having police and school administrators harassing young adults, threatening them and issuing costly and painful tickets and citations for underage drinking is not beneficial to anyone. Good luck as you hopefully get people to open a reasonable dialogue about this topic. But also do expect that there are certain to be many folks who see it completely different from you and I, so you should hear them as well. Keep writing as I am enjoying your blog and I hope it starts to gain lots of readers who will appreciate your thoughtful insights.

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