FRANCE - Many American teenagers get their first taste of the faded life while on family vacations to countries with comparatively relaxed alcohol age restrictions, where their parents look on with bemusement as their 14-year-old attempts to feign sophistication by ordering a glass of red wine. France, in particular, has always had a reputation as the sort of idyllic place where children and adults alike sip Champagne measuredly over their steak frites, never venturing into the kind of sloppy, vomiting psychosis that we associate with heavy drinking in our decidedly frattier homeland.
But while we may see France that way, it apparently disagrees. First, in 2009, the nation raised its legal age for purchasing alcohol from 16 to 18 and outlawed the 24-hour sale of alcohol at gas stations. Last year, a new law was passed requiring all private vehicles to carry Breathalyzers (although the fining system was dropped and instead become a “recommendation”). And now, a draft bill aims to eradicate binge-drinking by putting heavy fines and even possible jail time on those who “incite” it—which could mean a lot of things. What a buzzkill.
It’s not just people throwing keggers who are at risk for punishment; apparently, novelty products such as sloganed t-shirts and phone cases emblazoned with pro-drinking jokes or logos will also be targeted (if Spencer’s Gifts has a French outlet, it will likely be S.O.L.). France’s health minister, Marisol Touraine, explained it thusly to RTL: “It will be made illegal to sell products that make alcohol appear pleasant.”
Which is funny, because it has always seemed as though France had almost unanimously agreed that alcohol is pleasant, at least in some degree of moderation. There aren’t even any current laws concerning the regulation of private drinking (which is why the serving of alcohol to the under-18 crowd has historically been no big deal).
But one possible reason for the move could be the growing prevalence and opulence of bizutages—which are essentially large-scale, extremely drunken hazing parties for new college students. In the past three years, hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions rose by 30 percent. Professor Michel Reynaud, a Paris-based addiction specialist and co-author of a fairly alarming 2013 report from the French Society for Alcohol Abuse, has said that young women in particular are eager to get completely trashed in efforts to one-up their friends and achieve, in his words, “a form of glory.”
This generation of French kids are apparently a new breed of party animal compared to their steadier predecessors, and their parents just don’t understand. But even if the law does pass in front of the National Assembly in 2015, it’s unclear how strictly it will be upheld, or through what means. When you’re a young person devoid of the kinds of responsibilities that discourage hangovers, drunken tomfoolery is essentially a backbone of social interaction. Though young-adult binge-drinking has been a longstanding truth in the US and UK, it may be something of a shiny new toy for the French. It was always the kid at your high school with the strictest parents who went way off the deep end—and had the most to prove—when he was no longer under their thumb.
While we could all do without the trashy beer pun t-shirts and novelty flasks, it may be harder to dissuade an entire generation from pounding whiskey when, hey—all of their friends are doing it.
Vice.com/Oct. 20, 2014