When we left Portugal for the Language of Liberty camp in Poland, we left a wine country for a vodka country. At the supermarket near the campsite in Sulejow, Poland, our host stands in front of several shelves of vodka and tells us what the difference is between each brand. He also picks up a large jar of pickles. “To eat with vodka,” he explains.
But the students at the camp aren’t very interested in drinking. Most are between the ages of 18-23. Over half of them are male. Some of them don’t drink at all. The ones who do drink have a small glass of vodka as they grill kielbasas over the campfire.
For these students, drinking alcohol is not an activity unto itself. It’s a part of their culture. They grow up with it. They take it for granted.
One can’t help comparing their drinking habits with the habits of the average American college student.
The Polish government is not completely laissez-faire in regulating the sale and consumption of alcohol. The minimum drinking age is 18. Many cities have open-container laws. Recently the government banned the serving of alcohol before and during the recent state funerals for the victims of the Katin plane crash.
But the Polish students laugh when I ask if the government enforces the drinking age. Teenagers here are not arrested for drinking. Parents here are not threatened by child services for giving alcohol to their kids.
If the United States government wants future American youths to drink less (or drink differently), they have only to look to European models. Liberalization — not criminalization — is the answer. Here in Poland, a country known for its production of vodka, the youth is completely unimpressed by the idea of drunkenness. One night on the beach at the edge of camp, some of the teachers ask the students if they know any icebreaker games like the drinking games freshmen play in American universities. The Polish students are confused. They don’t know what drinking games are.