STORIES

An Un-American Guide to Drinking Like a European

By Jon Young on March 21, 2017

“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares; if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” - Ernest Hemingway

As America struggles with the pain of becoming great again, our need to take the edge off increases daily. It’s hard work sharing (and reading) so many politically charged memes on Facebook. Whether it be cannabis, alcohol or afternoon naps, the art of living in the United States is in its infancy compared to our cousins in Europe. With their walkable cities, long wine-soaked siestas and outrageous amounts of paid vacation, Americans can learn a thing or two about how to get a lot less done and a little more joie de vivre. 

In times like these, one might as well be a little drunk as we blame our leaders for allowing the world to crumble down around us. Let’s look at a few countries that know how to do this better than we do. 

GERMANY

“Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” - Martin Luther (Germany, 1517 AD)

Drinking Age: 16 for beer and wine (14 with a legal guardian), 18 for spirits
Drink of choice (by consumption): Beer (54%), Wine (28%), Spirits (18%)*
Public Drinking: Legal (except on public transit)
Cheers: Prost
Last Call: Nope

It’s no surprise that beer is Germany’s drink of choice. The Benedictine abbey Weihenstephan is the oldest brewery in the world, brewing since 1040 AD to supply fasting monks with liquid bread. Germany also boasts the oldest purity law in the world, the “Reinheitsgebot,” which has been in effect since the 15th century, ensuring beer be made only with water, hops, barley and (once discovered) yeast. Officially repealed in 1987, many breweries still follow the law, though its repeal has led to a boom in the craft beer industry.  

A Night Out in Hamburg: Meet up at a kiosk for beer or a weinschorle (wine mixed with carbonated water) at 9 p.m. to witness those who make a living from swiping half-finished cans from distracted drinkers due to Germany’s ridiculously high can and bottle deposit (8 to 16 cents for glass bottles, 25 cents for plastic or cans). When you tire of guarding your beverage, walk through the sex-by-the-hour alleys of the Reeperbahn to a karaoke bar and listen to semi-professional singers until 2 or 3 a.m. When you are booed off the stage for being a mere mortal who likes to sing, walk north from St. Pauli to Uebel und Gefährlich off Feldstrasse. It’s the first bunker on the left. Some clubs never close, meaning if you or your drugs are strong enough, you can stay for 48 hours or until your heart gives out. Trains don’t stop running on weekends, so catch whichever one is next.

USA Takeaway: While we get to walk around with semi-automatic assault rifles, Germans get to drink their beer while walking down the street. That’s true freedom. 

FRANCE

“In wine there is truth.” - French Proverb

Drinking Age: 18
Drink of Choice (by consumption: Wine (56%), Spirits (23%), Beer (19%), Other (2%)
Public Drinking: Legal (though some prefectures banned it)
Cheers: Santé (Sahn-tay)
Last Call: Nope

“We are used to drinking since we are 14 to 15 years old because France produces wine, and most of our parents drink it for dinner,” wrote Felix Dou, a friend from Paris. “We are also allowed to drink in the street (the alcohol is supposed to be hidden with a plastic bag for example). It makes drinking very convivial in Paris during the warm season when we just chill along the river Seine with bottles of wine or hard alcohol & food.”

A Night Out in Paris: Meet at Chez Georges, an old-school French pub in Saint Germain des Pres and head down the stairs into a brick cavern full of young French people dancing and drinking wine. Order a glass of red wine and a whiskey soda, and they will give you a bottle of wine and a whiskey coke. Finish your drinks around 1 a.m. and go to a warehouse party that turns out to be nothing more than a tiny storage unit in the 6th arrondissement with five figures dancing in the fog of the smoke machine. Make yourselves a couple of drinks, dance for a few minutes, then if you’re into it, get some party favors and head out to meet some friends at Concrete, a floating club on the Seine. The bouncers will take away your poorly hid party favors but will let you inside. Don’t worry, the guy next to you in line for the bathroom has some for sale. Dance until you see the sun rising from the decks of the barge around 6:30 a.m. By now the metro has reopened, and you can head for home. 

USA Takeaway: Drinking wine is as natural as breathing, and a whiskey soda in France means a whiskey coke. What the French do best is pace themselves for an entire night of food, drink, conversation and dance. Each chapter slowly revving up the evening replete with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. There’s a reason Hemingway and Fitzgerald chose to write here. Art imitates life. 

POLAND

“Happiness is between the lips and the rim of the glass.” - Polish Proverb

Drinking Age: 18
Drink of Choice (by consumption): Beer (55%), Spirits (36%), Wine (9%)
Public Drinking: Illegal
Cheers: Na zdrowie (Naz-dro-v-yeh)
Last Call: Nope

I’ve heard it said that the drinking age in Poland is, “I have three euros.” However, in many bars scattered throughout Krakow, it could be one euro (or four zloty, the local currency). Every few blocks, a shoe-box shaped bar offers vodka shots and piwo (beer) for one euro as well as snacks such as beef tartare, salads and pierogis for two euros, and if you can see above the bar, chances are they won’t check your ID. And as the stereotype suggests, Poles are fond of their vodka (chilled and neat), with spirits accounting for 36 percent of alcohol consumed in the country.

A Night Out in Krakow: Meet at BaniaLuka for four beers, four shots of vodka and some beef tartare for 10 euros. Around 10 p.m., head to an underground jazz club to drink draft Tyskie and Żubrówka (buffalo grass vodka) until you feel compelled to dance. Then head to Prozak 2.0 in Old Town to dance until they boot you out at 6 a.m. (some clubs actually close here). Get a Zapiekanka (open faced french-bread pizza) in the Jewish Quarter to soak up the alcohol then fall into a deep dreamless slumber in the nearest hostel.

USA Takeaway: Cheap beer doesn’t have to taste like PBR, and vodka with grass in it is good luck. It’s considered rude to refuse a shot as a guest in someone’s home, so pre-drinking may be ill-advised. Polish hosts generally take a shot with each newcomer to a party, outdrinking them should best be left to the Belarusians. With their inexpensive beer and vodka, laid-back drinking culture and 24/7 availability, drinking in Poland is a way of life, as is their religion, with 92.2 percent of Poles identifying as Roman Catholic. Amen.  

All statistics and laws taken from the 2010 World Health Organization’s Global Alcohol Report. Photo credits: Beerfest/Warner Bros and Flickr.

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