When we lived in Brussels, it was typical for my family to have wine with dinner every night. I remember vintages like St. Emilion and Medoc that we would pick up at the local Delhaize grocery store. I was only 10 years old, but I was often given a watered-down glass of my own. Fast forward to Manila, where I acted as bartender at my parents’ parties. I had my own little linen-covered table in the corner, and I knew the finer points of mixing a gin & tonic, (with a twist), how to pour beer with minimal head, and how to make a very dry martini, with olives and cocktail onions. I used to fix g & t’s for myself, and that subtle taste of juniper berries with a hint of lime is what takes me back to our house on Cambridge Circle. It also takes me to LaTosca, the restaurant that my boyfriend’s uncle owned. (They had really good shepherd’s pie and a Pong table). It takes me back to the smoky atmosphere of Where Else? the red carpeted disco at the Intercontinental Hotel (“the Intercon”). When we all went out for dinner at Italian Village (“IV”) we usually had San Miguel beer or wine. I learned something about tequila in those days: it doesn’t affect you until you try to stand up. And the sweeter the drink, the worse the hangover.
It wasn’t illegal. There wasn’t a drinking age in Manila. Most European countries at that time didn’t either. If this shocks you, remember that on the other hand, the driving age in most countries was 18. Teenagers could drink, but they couldn’t drive. Public transportation was readily accessible. In Manila, cabs were everywhere, and cheap. Sure we may have been a “little” tipsy
on the way home, but at least we weren’t behind the wheel of a car. Sure, I remember getting a lecture or two from my mom, usually about being home past my curfew. But there definitely was a general laissez-faire about drinking when I was at home.
I don’t know if there are any statistics about teenage drinking in other countries. But I have a theory that if we make alcohol less of a forbidden fruit to teenagers, it will not have the attraction and potential for abuse that it does. Living in the buckle of the Bible belt as I do, I see first hand this region’s attitudes towards alcohol, for both teenagers and adults. It is anathema … from the devil himself. For a long time when I sat in a restaurant drinking a glass of wine, I felt a little paranoid that I would run into someone from our Baptist church (to which I no longer belong, but THAT is a whole nother story). One of the more extreme examples of this attitude was when a friend of my son’s had a sip of champagne at his sister’s wedding, bragged about it at school, and was suspended for a week. An even sadder irony is that we can send 18-year-olds off to war, armed with horrific looking weapons, to face death or serious injury, but they are not allowed to legally have a last drink before shipping out.
Now I’m not saying that we should supply our teens with little airplane-sized bottles of vodka in their lunchboxes. On the contrary I believe that we should teach them to “drink responsibly”. Isn’t that what all the beer commercials say these days? How exactly are we teaching them to drink responsibly? We can’t just give lip service to it. One of my father’s wisest sayings was “Everything in moderation. Including moderation.”
Nor can I deny that my experience is just that: my experience. I don’t know how many of my classmates and fellow TCK’s didn’t fare as well as I did when it came to alcohol. I can only speak for myself, and I may be dead wrong. My own father suffered immensely from alcohol abuse; perhaps that was the reason I never went down that path. Or perhaps it’s because I hate the way I feel with a hangover.