Cultural Differences in the Way People Drink

It wasn’t until I left my own home country, that I realised that peoples’ attitudes towards drinking alcohol differs drastically all over the world. Just between the two countries of Australia and the Netherlands, there are several major differences in the way that people drink and how culture has influenced them.

To binge or not to binge?  That is the question

In Australia, one drinks quite a lot of alcohol. It is the norm and seen everywhere all over the country. We are extremely social, love parties and are literally experts on binge drinking. Simply put, in any sort of social environment, we drink alcohol – and lots of it. If you go to visit a friend, the first thing they’ll do is offer you a drink. An alcoholic beverage of some sort. Then you usually just keep going from there. On average though, I would say Australians are happy drunks. So it is enjoyable, social, and in general, Australians sure do know how to have a good time. I mean, what is better than a nice cold beer on a hot day?

Now I’m not saying binge drinking is a good thing, but it is enjoyable. However, it is also extremely dangerous. Learning how to become the expert binge drinker does take much practise and training; and in the beginning, it is not pretty. Most teenagers will binge drink at parties until they throw up. It is all part of the learning process. You learn — how and where to draw the line — the hard way.

When I moved to the Netherlands, I immediately noticed that the Dutch have quite a different attitude towards drinking. Europeans have a rich wine culture and will mostly drink a glass or two of wine (or beer) simply to enjoy the beverage, rather than drink to ‘get drunk’. Alcohol is also not seen as often at parties etc. Actually, if you are invited to an afternoon birthday party, most of the time they are alcohol free! You will be offered tea or coffee. During a Dutch circle party, an alcoholic bevy is EXACTLY what I want and need. On the rare occasion, if the party runs until later, you may be offered a glass of wine or a beer, together with cheese and/or bitterballen.

Of course binge drinking does occur in the Netherlands, particularly on days such as Kings Day and regularly with high school/college/uni students. Previously young people over the age of 16 could legally purchase and consume beer and wine (alcohol <15% ABV). As of 1 January 2014, the minimum legal purchase and consumption age in the Netherlands was raised from 16 to 18 in the Netherlands. This may have helped. Probably not. But still, in general, the Dutch do seem to be much more controlled as far as alcohol intake in concerned.

To BYO or not?

When attending a party in Australia, you usually bring your own (BYO). You rock up with your esky packed full of it; on ice of course, as that Aussie sun is hot! After all, why should the birthday boy/girl have to fork out for everyone else’s drinks. It’s their special day, so I think we should actually be buying them a drink. In Australia we even have BYO restaurants (which I have never seen in Europe). The only exceptions where Australians will purchase the alcohol for all their guests would be on special occasions such as your wedding day or 21st birthday etc. This is most likely due to the price of alcohol, or should I say the alcohol tax. Otherwise, we would never want to host a party as it would simply be unaffordable!

Here in the Netherlands, the person hosting the party will always supply the drinks for all guests. As most people do not drink all that much and the price of alcohol is low, this is doable.  So the only thing you should take along with you to a party is a bunch of flowers for the host/hostess (which will also only set you back about 5 euros).

Breaking the Bank?

The cost of alcohol in the Netherlands is very low. You can get a crate of beer for ten euros, a bottle of wine for five euros or a one litre bottle of whiskey for twenty euros!! It is very affordable. Still, they do not overuse and abuse it.

Aussies love to drink, but they pay through the nose for it. Aussies are actually paying among the highest prices on the planet. This is due to the alcohol tax. There are 16 different categories and two different taxation systems, depending on alcohol type, concentration, commercial use, and container size, raising around $6 billion for the government. You can pay around $1 of tax per standard drink!  Meaning that a crate of beer will set you back about AUS$50! This does not, however, deter Australians from buying it.

Which drinking habits are best?

I have experienced both attitudes towards alcohol. I am still not sure which I prefer personally, and probably somewhere in the middle would be good. Moderation is the key.

But one thing I do know for sure is that I am relieved that my children are growing up observing the European attitude towards drinking alcohol. Children pick up on so much. They also witness how people drink alcohol. They observe and learn whether alcohol is drunk with food or not, whether it is drunk in groups or alone, how much of it is consumed and how quickly, and both the positive and negative affects it has on those who drink it. I feel like it is easier to show and teach our children a better attitude towards drinking here than it would be in Australia. If children see adults appreciating wine, for example, – smelling, tasting, discussing and consuming it with meals and in moderation – it may positively impact their drinking habits as young adults. We need to teach our children to respect alcohol and not abuse it. To drink sensibly. That it is ok to stop after one or two glasses. To not feel like they need to drink until they are intoxicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good party – and I love alcohol. On the weekends, I may drink 2-5 glasses of wine in the evening, and when we host a party here in Holland, we do it in our own special combined ‘Dutch-Aussie’ style (our guests can drink as much as they’d like – we wont judge you – and we will provide all of it); but.. only once our kids are fast asleep will we drink more than one.

What is the biggest difference you have noticed in regards to the drinking habits here in the Netherlands compared to other countries?

Kristen

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3 thoughts on “Cultural Differences in the Way People Drink

  1. So we were just in Portugal for the May holidays. My son had a birthday while we were there and we brought him to a Brazilian restaurant. At the end of the meal, the manager brought us digestives (in shot glasses as is the norm). The kids asked for one, totally joking. But the manager brought them back Shirley Temple “shots”. My youngest (the one with the birthday) proceeded to tell everyone that he was hammered! Apparently he has not picked up on Dutch moderation and will be heading towards the American binging (like Australia) when he’s of age 😉

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