As a five-year British expatriate residing in the United States, one of the many cultural differences I have noticed is the relatively low frequency with which Americans consume alcohol. Granted, I have spent that entire 5 years in Indiana, a largely conservative state. However, statistics show that on the whole, Americans are – pound for pound – lighter drinkers than their British counterparts.
This, of course, is by no means a criticism of the American people; indeed, I have seen first-hand how excessive drinking – or binge drinking – can go too far on a Friday night in Britain. But it is an interesting observation, and one that most Brits might be rather surprised to discover. Aside from the role of religion and the importance of family, perhaps one of the leading reasons for the disparity is the national minimum drinking age.
Following the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, states were essentially required to raise the minimum age for purchasing and publicly possessing alcohol to 21, while in Britain – like most countries where alcohol consumption is legal – citizens can drink legally at 18. Moreover, many of these 18-year-olds – as new transplants to university campuses – are often actively encouraged to get slaughtered by their student union, during what is known across the UK as “freshers week”.
Conversely, one in three American campuses are “dry”, meaning that alcohol consumption is banned therein. That’s not to say that frat and sorority parties don’t exist. In fact, there is some concern that covert drinking is leading to more and more fatalities (usually from road accidents) across the United States.
On a less serious note, though, both countries are big fans of beer. While there is a misconception that British beer is served warm (it is usually served at cellar temperature), it is not uncommon for Brits and Americans alike to enjoy a pint (though Americans don’t typically use this term, and a pint is a different measurement over here) of beer in a restaurant or while watching a game. As a matter of fact, the actual act of purchasing beer (or any alcohol, come to that) is pretty similar between the two countries: both offer six-packs; both offer bottled brands; and both offer various types of beer, from hops-based beverages to mainstream, inexpensive lagers such as Miller Lite or Carlsberg.
The only differences are subtle: in Britain, alcoholic drinks (for private consumption) can be bought at an off-license, whereas the American equivalent is known as a liquor store. Moreover, certain states in the U.S. don’t allow alcohol sales on a Sunday and, as stated earlier, there is the small matter of the minimum age. It should be noted, also, that Britain allows citizens between the ages of 5 and 17 to consume alcohol at home, so long as they are supervised by a parent or legal guardian.
There is, however, a major disparity between each country’s enforcement of the open container law. In most jurisdictions in the United States, it is illegal to drink in public, while in Britain citizens can legally drink on the streets immediately after leaving the aforementioned off-license. Famously, however, public drinking was restricted in regard to London’s underground system, in an effort to curtail anti-social behavio(u)r.
On a personal note, perhaps because of America’s restrictive drinking laws, I have found that I drink far less these days than I did 10 years ago. Counter-argument: this could also be down to old age.