Culture and Alcohol: A Personal Response

This project has looked at the culture of alcohol use in both Germany and Italy. These places share similarities in their approach to alcohol, but they also diverge from one another at points. When it comes to American culture in general, we have a very different view about what alcohol’s role and position is in society. For us, alcohol is primarily viewed as a substance that is easily abused and an intoxicant. The rates of binge drinking and alcoholism are much higher in American than they are in either Italy or Germany. It should also be mentioned that the legal drinking age is twenty-one which is a number of years later than when Italians and Germans can legally drink. Even with that being the case, underage drinking is a large issue in the States. The variation in approaches to alcohol can in part be explained by Hofstede’s dimension of indulgence. In this category the United States rates at a 68. This is significantly higher than the previously mentioned countries. This makes it evident that while they show restraint, Americans tend to look for ways to gratify themselves: often by turning to alcohol. 

My own cultural landscape largely impacts the way in which I interact and view the issue of alcohol. My family is a huge part of life. For them, alcohol is a primary element of special occasions and casual gatherings. The way that they approach alcohol is similar to how the general American approach: one of indulgence. However, my faith is also a major influencer on my life and parts of what I believe are in direct conflict with how my family interacts with alcohol. Personally, I think that it is okay for Christians to drink (I mean Jesus did turn water into wine, would he really do that if people would then sin by consuming it?). I also think that God does tell us not to become drunk because of the harms that can come from being in a state like that. These two major parts of my life are in conflict with one another and it has caused me to really think about where I draw the line for myself when it comes to alcohol. 

On a larger faith scale, I think that churches in America often possess the view that alcohol is an agent of the devil and only that. Once, again I would disagree and think that the church in Italy has a much more productive attitude about it. They share the views of the country as a whole. It is a addition to a meal and a symbol of friendship and hospitality. Consuming it does not equate to sinning as long as you maintain control over it. Churches is Germany also share a similar view as Italy, but are more cautious about it because there are more issues of alcoholism there than in Italy. When the church condemns drinking as a whole in America, it pushes people away from the issue but not away from the practices. 

This is very evident in our own community at Bethel. I think that everyone knows that the covenant does not restrain all students from ever consuming alcohol. Instead, it makes them scared to talk about the issue and how to have control over it. I have talked with numerous people, both professors and students, who describe Bethel students after graduation as having no control when it comes to consuming alcohol. This is largely in part because students were not socialized around it and did not learn how to engage with alcohol in a responsible manner. Sure this would not totally diminish the problem, but not closing people off to having these conversations is the direction that it needs to be taken in. 

When it comes to the culture of alcohol, I think that America has a very dangerous attitude about it. There are so many deaths that are related to alcohol in some way or another that it is alarming. I think that because we are so individualistic we see alcohol as an opportunity for personal pleasure, but forgot the impact that it can often have on other people. I wish that we would adopt a cultural approach similar to Italy. Alcohol is an enjoyable substance, but there needs to be a respect for it and the power that it can have over us if we let it. While we see the power that it has, instead of asserting our dominance, we succumb to its strength. 

When reflecting on the topic of alcohol, I find my opinions in sharp contrast with a lot of those within my own culture. For instance, why is it that you can sign up to sacrifice your life for your country at 18, but you cannot have a beer with your dinner until 21. Something about this just does not seem right to me, but I am sure that the issue is more complex than just that and there are reasons for the drinking age. Additionally, I think that the biggest contrast comes because of the covenant. A lot of students at Bethel probably share my opinion that if I am 21 you should not be able to stop me from drinking. Again, this stems from the individualism of our culture. We want to drink for our own pleasure, yet we ignore the implications that drinking may have on other people. When it comes to the covenant, I think Bethel is trying to push back against this individualistic mindset by forcing us to think about the community ahead of our selves. I do not know if this is the best way to go about this, but it might be. I think it is a lot of pushback from students (myself included) due to a lack of understanding why because it has become such a taboo topic to talk about. When it all comes down to it, each person is going to have a different viewpoint about alcohol and the best we can do is try to understand where they are coming from and have respect for their choices.

Culture and Alcohol: A Personal Response