Attitudes toward alcohol differ around the world like the topography of grapes varieties. In the States it’s practically a taboo, especially for the youth. Getting wasted is a rite of passage. In Muslim cultures it’s virtually forbidden, except in designated “expat zones”. In Europe, alcohol (especially beer and wine) is ubiquitous, in places you’d least expect. In Castelmare de Golfo Sicily, where I was involved in a minor fender bender (I blame the 90-degree angle old building corners) there was a beer vending machine in the break room of the Polizei station for officers to have a beer with their meals. You might feel surprised you freely can drink wine or beer in a museum. That’s when you feel like Europe is a land made for grown-ups.


When it comes to moral dilemmas, traditional societies (code: everybody else) place relationships over rules. The assumption is people are born “dependent and connected.” Society problem-solves by “policing” each other to achieve consensus, honor, and trust. People are responsible for holding each member of society accountable. Americans find this confounding, and often fail to comprehend the implications (for a while anyway). Layered over the “custom” over “law” dimension of culture, the needs of the group are more important than the individual, compelling society to conform for the sake of their perception of truth and harmony. For Americans, this runs counter clockwise to our understanding of obtaining both.


While relationship oriented cultures respond to moral dilemmas differently but what you can do, beyond absorbing those deeply rooted national values (this takes time) is stay on the ground floor for easier access to the elevators “restraint and moderation” about alcohol. Take it easy. 1-2 glasses with food is the norm. Watch how much others drink, and over what length of time. For the French, drinking wine is a food-related experience, and the amount is tempered by their perpetual desire to reach the “golden middle”. Greeks have a similar attitude about wine with food. They honor the notion of moderation by refilling a glass only halfway, because to pour more would be excessive. 

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