by Helen ~ June 21st, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized.

Let me be candid with you for a moment:

I am a rising senior in college; I am twenty years old; I like to drink alcohol.

Please, hold your gasps of shock and horror until the end. If you can cry silently, feel free to do so. I know you’re all shocked: one doesn’t normally discuss drinking on a public blog that one’s parental units read, but let me be the exception to that rule. See, first of all, one of the great things about England is that I’ve been overage for two and a half years. Any and all drinking that I do here is legal and, since I’m a young person, more or less expected. I haven’t been carded since I’ve been here, and it’s been nice to be able to have a drink with my meal. Did you know you can have drinks at lunchtime? I’m not sure that I did.

And here’s the truly shocking thing: young people drink socially here and it isn’t a big deal.

I mean, sometimes I still feel like it’s a big deal. Being raised in America, even with parents who have comparatively liberal views about the drinking age, I still feel slightly transgressive every time I saunter up to a barman and say, “I’ll have a pint of Blackthorn.”

(I say this a lot.)

This trip is sort of functioning, in terms of drinking, as a taste of what it will be like in less than six months when I turn twenty-one. Drinking before you come of age in the U.S. is a normative social behavior, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t carried out mostly in private social settings. The fact that, after class today, most of the Oscar Wilde seminar went out for an early dinner and drink at the pub around the corner was still thrilling to me, even though we’ve been here for nearly three weeks.

Drinking on a school night? I thought, tasting my first snakebite (a heady combination of cider, Foster’s, and blackcurrant syrup). But, really, it’s more than that: I’m still surprised to be treated as if I can drink responsibly. It’s a nice feeling.

Robert, me, Tricia, & Erin enjoying our pints of cider at Roskilly’s Farm under the Cornish flag!

2 Responses to Truths

  1. Donald Rallis

    I don’t want you to think that I am encouraging the irresponsible or excessive consumption of alcohol, especially in my capacity as a UMW professor. But basically I agree with you. I believe that barring under 21s from drinking in the US promotes alcohol abuse rather than discourages it.

    But that’s not the main point of my comment. I spend a few days last week in South Wales, trying to learn something about the place, its geography, its culture, and my family roots there (see my blog and also pics at I was also in the UK on the day of the Royal Wedding ( and I visited museums, wandered around small towns, and talked to people on the street.

    But some of the most interesting people I met, and the most interesting things i learned, were in pubs. In the UK, they are great places to meet and talk to people, especially in a society where people are often reserved and not prone to random interaction with strangers, So my advice is go to pubs, talk to people that you don’t know, and learn what you can about the country from them. But don’t just hang out with your friends and people you already know.

    in short, don’t go out to get drunk, but do go to pubs to meet people and talk to them.


  2. Helen

    Thank you, Dr. Rallis! Your photos are wonderful and your blog interesting.

    I agree with you, and please don’t think that I was trying to valorize underage drinking, either! I don’t like the party culture in the US and don’t take part in it, as surprising as that may seem. It feels preachy to say so in this context, but here seems to me to be something very harmful about the way in which drinking is perceived in the US. I completely understand the medical reasons for the drinking age being higher: the adolescent brain doesn’t finish developing until after the age of 21 (though the actual figure escapes me). Drinking, though, is seen as a transgressive behavior for young people rather than a sociable one and consequently many people drink to excess.

    Thankfully, none the UMW students on my program have been having problems with drinking. We’ve been going out occasionally for drinks, but mostly we’ve been wandering around Bath and seeing the sights. We’ve met some really interesting people when we’ve been out, and I feel like we’re making the most of our experience!