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International students experience alcohol differently

Alcohol is commonplace in many international traditions experienced by students at Biola.  |  Photo courtesy of Masha Andrievskaya

 

It is no secret alcohol can be a taboo subject. The lure of alcohol can be strong, especially to teens for whom alcohol is the last holdout to adulthood.

In America

In America, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 set the age 21 as the legal limit to curb the high fatality rate caused by drunk driving. Biola students of all ages are prohibited from using alcohol or controlled substances. According to the Biola University Student Handbook, the purpose of Biola’s prohibition policy is to ensure a safe environment for students to live, grow and learn.

“Contract… that’s equality, in a way, and it makes it easier for everyone,” said Adina Baciu, sophomore communications studies major. “I have to say no, and if I choose to be part of a certain community I have to submit to the rules.”

In Europe

Though Baciu, a Romanian citizen, understands and agrees with the contract, she also presented a European perspective regarding alcohol consumption. In Romania, alcohol is not only a staple at the dinner table, it is considered a disgrace not to provide it for guests at events. For Romanians, the legal drinking age is 18, as it is in over 60 percent of all countries, according to Procon.org. However, many families will allow their children to have a few sips at an early age to become acquainted with the taste.

Masha Andrievskaya, sophomore cultural anthropology major, said that opinions in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Russia, are strikingly similar.

“They don’t see it as a big deal,” said Andrievskaya. “Now, if one person starts talking about alcohol here, at Biola, guys go crazy… But it’s not a big deal, because usually parents start letting you try alcohol or wine when you’re 15 or 16.”

Examples of the normative nature of alcohol were echoed by many of Andrievskaya’s international peers. These students are even accustomed to alcohol-related traditions. For instance, alcohol is sometimes used medicinally. Enforcing Russian stereotypes, the people of Russia have a special curative.

Medicinal Purposes

“It’s cold in winter, and [vodka] usually helps for not getting sick,” Andrievskaya said. “When I would get really sick in winter [as a child], I would drink vodka with jam, just like one shot, and it helps you. You’re like, great the next morning.”

Andrievskaya refutes, however, that vodka is the only alcoholic beverage that Russians ever drink. She said it became a coping mechanism for veterans of World War II due to the lack of psychological help available in Soviet Russia. This is likely where the vodka-loving stereotype originated.

In the Romanian countryside it is traditional for people, such as Baciu’s grandmother, to brew their own alcohol. One typical drink is Palincă, a fruit brandy usually made from peaches or grapes.

“It’s kind of a treat when you have a good glass of Palincă made by your grandparents…Tradition is, after you’ve had a huge meal for Easter or Christmas, you take a little shot of Palincă. They say if you ate a lot of food, take a shot of Palincă and it will clear up,” Baciu said. “They say that it cures anything. Like, you don’t need medicine, you take a shot of that.”

Similarly, Sophia Ghazeleh, sophomore elementary education major, describes her experience living in Amman, Jordan, where drinking is also usually “done under the family umbrella.” Cognac or a spirit called arak is popular for stomach pain.

“We usually pour a bit and add water to it, and it cleanses up your stomach,” Ghazeleh said. She elaborated with a story about her father, who rarely drinks except for holidays and the occasional small glass when his doctors prescribe it.  “We have cognac, that’s very common. Like, my dad will add a bit to his tea if his stomach is hurting him.”

Christmas

Many countries also have Christmas traditions involving alcohol. In Jordan, red wine is popular.

“One thing [that is] special for Christmas Eve, we sit around the table together and my dad takes out a glass of wine and serves us a little bit,” Ghazeleh said. “We’re not getting drunk, it’s just something pure.”

Ghazeleh explained another tradition of visiting family and friends’ houses on Christmas day. The visitors, who typically stay for only 15–30 minutes, are greeted with a small glass of red wine and sweets.

“It’s something traditional and it’s usually hand–made red wine,” Ghazeleh said. “With it you get served chocolate-covered almonds, or coffee, or raisins. At every single house, when we go and visit, we get served that.”

In Russia, Christmas and New Year's are typically seen as a week-long excuse for revelry.

“[New Year’s] ends up being a seven-day occasion. People joke about it being a drinking week, but actually not as much. You don’t see people on the streets,” Andrievskaya said.

Russians, holding primarily to the Eastern Orthodox faith, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 rather than Dec. 25. People go on vacation between New Year’s and Christmas, and most celebrate non-stop with delicious beverages.

In an old tradition in the countryside of Romania, a troupe of men and women dress up in bear skins. For the days between Christmas and New Year’s, they dance and drink across the towns in order to scare away bad spirits. They play for audiences and compete for prizes against other “bear troupes.” Often, the townspeople they performed for would pay them with cups of homemade Palincă.

In Sweden, the drink of choice for Christmas and other celebrations is snaps, a hard liquor. Traditionally, the shot is accompanied by a drinking song such as Helan Går. Dominique Kaijser, sophomore nursing major, recounts these occasions to sing with her family fondly.

“Even though as a kid I wasn’t a part of [the drinking], all of my aunts and uncles and grandparents and my parents would be singing this song together and it’s just nice. I didn’t really know what the point was, but it’s just a fun thing that would happen,” Kaijser said. In general, she says Swedes treat alcohol as an enjoyable social activity that provides an opportunity connect with others.

Other Traditions

Some international drinking traditions, however, are just hilarious, such as the Russian tradition for meeting a daughter’s boyfriend. When Andrievskaya’s sister brought her boyfriend home for the first time, her father knew how to test his suitability, even though they did not speak the same language. He gave the boyfriend a bottle of vodka to drink. This is a typical test of the strength and suitability of their daughter’s boyfriends: how well they can hold their vodka.

“He had two shots before he fell asleep,” Andrievskaya said. “That’s how my dad knew. Like, he’s okay, but he’s not that great.”

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