As a Norwegian exchange student at the University of Minnesota, I’ve been asked to compare the American alcohol culture with the one I know from home.
Alcohol plays an important role in Norwegian cultural and social functions, thanks to the time when Norwegian Vikings ravaged Europe. Viking sagas by Norwegian poet Snorri Sturluson introduced the Gulating Laws, some of the oldest laws in Norway. These laws demanded that landlords brew mead; noncompliance may have warranted a fine or even land confiscation.
Alcohol was a symbol of masculinity, freedom and hospitality. We can read that alcohol was a part of celebrations and Vikings drank beer from containers called “skål,” or some variance of the word, which is also Norwegian for “cheers.” It’s not a coincidence that Minnesota Vikings fans scream “Skol, Vikings,” from the top of their lungs when running back Adrian Peterson scores a touchdown. Translated, they scream “Cheers, Vikings,” and encourage fellow Vikings fans to drink with them. Hesitation is considered offensive.
Today, Viking customs and practices continue to influence Norwegian drinking culture and help explain our tolerant and relaxed relationship with alcohol and drunkenness. Although the legal drinking age in Norway is 18, many people are first introduced to alcohol by 15. Underage experimenting is socially accepted and is commonly practiced in family gatherings in order to educate young men and women and to prepare them for adulthood.
There is international consensus that alcohol influences the human body in an unhealthy way when consumed at a high volume. It’s also a universal phenomenon that young people drink heavily, and drinkers can become addicted to it and drive under its influence.
Why is it that no other country has a stricter age limit for alcohol consumption than the United States? Is it because of the U.S.’s lack of research or lack of care for its next generation, or do U.S. citizens simply look rationally and sensibly on the issue?
During my time here at the University, I have witnessed a slightly scary alcohol culture — or a lack thereof. My impression is that sheltering young Americans from alcohol really works against its intention.
The U.S. is known as the land of liberty and opportunities. Minnesotans can drive a car when they’re 15. Minnesotans can buy a gun when they’re 18 — the same age they can vote.
All of these represent liberal age limits; you’ll have to wait until you are 21 to drink alcohol. This delays alcohol’s debut for young Americans until they are moving from their safe environment to college. Binge drinking on campus is ubiquitous, and the access to alcohol is unlimited. Launching inexperienced students into this scenario seems ludicrous.
The fact that there are more liquor shops than proper groceries near the University campus is a testament to that. Older students buy alcohol for underclassmen, but they don’t get caught.
Introducing kids to alcohol at private parties without oversight — instead of public bars where responsible, trained people serve alcohol — is troublesome.
Alcohol’s effect on the body cannot be determined by reading a book or listening to others’ experiences, even if they can provide some valuable advice. Experimentation is required, and it’s wiser to encourage alcohol consumption in an environment where family and friends look after each other.
I also believe the age limit on alcohol consumption contributes to a fruitful illicit drug market on campus, because it seems like you’re just as wrong drinking a beer before you’re 21 than using harder drugs.