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Alcohol figures into some young Americans’ European plans

Special to The Times

For many young Americans traveling to Europe this summer, the continent’s allure is more than historic and cultural attractions. It’s also the booze.

The pubs of London; the clubs of Ibiza, Spain; the beer gardens of Munich, Germany; and the Heineken brewery in Amsterdam are musts for many young travelers -- perhaps even more so than London’s Big Ben and Paris’ Eiffel Tower.

To help young adults plan their pub crawl through Europe there is PubClub.com, which bills itself as “Where the world goes to party.” This online travel guide provides information about clubs and nightlife in cities around the globe.

Amy Jones, a senior studying communications and public relations at Cal State Fullerton, was 20 years old when she went on an eight-month study trip to Europe last year.

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She researched drinking ages online and in guidebooks before departing. She reported her adventures in nearly a dozen countries in Europe for PubClub.com.

Drinking ages in Europe are less restrictive than in the U.S. Eighteen-year-olds have legal access to alcohol in every country in Europe, and in many the drinking age is even lower, though sometimes the lower age limits apply only to beer and wine.

England, for example, allows beer and wine to be served to 16- and 17-year-olds when ordered as part of a meal in a restaurant. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and others allow drinking at 16; Switzerland’s minimum age is 14. Poland and Portugal have no minimum drinking age.

The lower drinking age “was one of the deciding factors to go that year of my life,” Jones says. “I was in a great position, because I could go out and do all that stuff with my friends ... not necessarily get drunk but have a glass of wine with dinner.”

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So how does a parent feel about having a 20-year-old daughter who was not only away from home in a place where drinking is legal but who also was seeking out clubs, pubs and bars to write about them?

“We were a bit apprehensive at first,” says Sandy Jones, Amy’s mother, a travel agent in Yorba Linda. “But we realized that she is a very independent and capable young woman.”

Parents who have acted as good role models with regard to alcohol shouldn’t worry about their children succumbing to the demon rum in Europe, says David J. Hanson, a sociology professor emeritus from State University of New York at Potsdam, who has studied young people and alcohol for 35 years.

“If they’ve been a good role model and consumed alcohol in moderation, they can pretty much relax, because parents are the biggest influence on the drinking behaviors of young people,” he says.

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Hansen, in conjunction with the university, runs an online resource about young people and alcohol, www2.potsdam.edu/alcohol-info.

Europeans generally have a different attitude toward drinking from that of Americans, Hanson says. They “just historically have had a much healthier, more accepting attitude toward drinking,” he says. “But they are rather intolerant of alcohol abuse.”

He cites a study on Italian teens as an example of the social ostracism that can occur when young people abuse alcohol in Europe. “They were very intolerant of their peers who become intoxicated,” he says. “It’s a very easy way to get excluded from a group.... They think it’s stupid, unacceptable, and that’s true throughout most of Europe.”

The legal system in Europe too is strict about alcohol abuse, especially when it comes to drunken driving, Hanson says.

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Contact James Gilden at www.theinternettraveler.com.


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