Weekend Discussion: The Fight Against Binge Drinking

red wine by judi bagnatoLet me preface this by saying that although I’m not a parent (yet, hopefully), that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about issues surrounding raising children, especially since just about everything involving raising children eventually affects the society at large.

So last week I read an article entitled:

Letting kids drink early reduces binge drinking

which of course mentioned Italy as a country in which drinking (especially wine) is introduced to children at an early age, thus removing the mystique of alcohol and making social drinking just that–social–as opposed to binge, defined as five or more drinks in one sitting.

The article talks about the problems of drinking (11 million underage drinkers), and in particular binge drinking (7.2 million) in the United States. For other international readers, the UK and Australia are also experiencing problems, and here‘s information on some other countries as well.

Immediately I thought of a New York Times article from a few months ago:

Rome Welcomes Tourism Con Brio, but Not Too Much

which resonated throughout the Italian expat blogosphere; Shelley (At Home in Rome), Elizabeth (Cross-Cultural Moments), and Tina (Pecorino e Miele) all wrote about it and got some great comments, so do check them out.

From my personal experience in Italy (although admittedly not in Italian universities), drinking just to get drunk simply isn’t a normal occurrence around here. A glass of wine (or two) with lunch or dinner is quite common, and if someone under the legal drinking age (hey, does Italy even have one?) wants a sip, it’s no big deal.

Some say, though, that even those social norms are changing and that the influence of some other, ahem, different drinking cultures are influencing Italian youth especially. Indeed in the posts and comments discussing the NY Times piece listed above, a common thread is that American study abroad students and other tourists are contributing to the corruption, if you will, of impressionable Italians.

So what do you think? There are great arguments on both sides of this issue discussed here, so I hope you’ll have a look and then come back and tell us:

Does making alcohol a normal part of the meal/family gatherings take away the intrigue that children may feel to sneak a few sips here and there? Could this be a way to fight against the kind of binge drinking that so many teens and those in their early twenties (and beyond!) take part in?

Or does it only encourage underage (and possibly a lifetime of) drinking and even pave the way to alcohol abuse?

If you’d like to share your own experiences as a child, teen, and/or parent regarding alcohol, I’d love to hear those too.

Buon weekend…e salute!

57 Beans of Wisdom to “Weekend Discussion: The Fight Against Binge Drinking”
  1. Tina

    I absolutely believe that allowing your children to partake of wine at the family dinner table, is a very healthy habit that prevents binge drinking.
    Having been raised in an Italian-American family which a heavy leaning towards the Italian, I’ve been allowed to drink wine all my life. I hated it when I was a kid, but was always offered a taste it, albeit watered down (no wonder I didn’t like it!)
    In high school and up, I was allowed to have real wine (as in not watered down) once in a while with dinner – just a fingerfull. I have to admit that it took years for it to grow on me, but by the time I was 21, old enough to buy wine at the store, I had started to define my taste in wine. I was the one who enjoyed sipping wine, while my friends gulped and drank to get drunk. I’ll admit I’ve had my less than stellar moments (o dio), but for the most part, I have always enjoyed wine as part of a meal, and I do think it’s because of how I was raised.
    The ones who binge-drank or became alcoholics, were the ones who were never allowed to touch it growing up.
    Those of us who were allowed a little once in a while, grew up knowing how to drink in moderation, with a meal.
    great topic!

  2. Ally

    I think that how your parents handle alcohol might be as big of factor in how a child handles alcohol as whether or not there is underage drinking at home. In my case, my parents drank very responsibly to be relaxed– never, ever drunk. And as children on special occasions we had wine or beer with our meals at the family dinner table. No big deal. It was just part of the meal.

  3. Enza

    I was raised like Tina, Italian family, allowed to drink as young as 8. When I reached the “partying” age and my friends were getting drunk, I was sober and not at all interested in the taste of alcohol. We are raising our kids the same way. My oldest son is now on his own, in the military and is not at all thrilled with the taste of beer and wine and if he does have a drink it’s purely social and not for the sake of seeing how many he can put away! Great topic!

  4. Lisa Milton

    I grew up sorta fascinated by alcohol. Nobody in my family drank, out of fear. (There was alcoholism in the family tree.) Now days, we have wine at dinner and my husband makes a mean margarita. My kids are still pretty young so we obviously aren’t encouraging them to drink now. However, I don’t make it out to be a big deal. They smell it, see it, know it exists and we talk about making good choices. I hope taking the mystery out of it takes away some of the ‘magic’ too.

    (My husband’s family is Italian so he grew up with wine until his parents converting to LDS. Must have been quite a change.)

  5. Lisa Milton

    I meant to say they converted to LDS.

  6. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    I agree with the other posters. The amount of binge drinking I saw in college (I had my moments as well) was pretty awful.

    I think it is ridiculous at 18 one can vote, fight in a war, get married etc. but you can’t have a beer with pizza?! The whole drinking to get drunk thing is a major problem in American culture. So many kids feel like they have to get “wasted” in order to have fun. Sad.

  7. Anonymous

    Hi. I’m italian and I grew up in a family where wine is a normal part of eating. We even made our own wine (i’m originally from monferrato, piemonte) and my parents say one of the first thing they did after I was born was having me drink a few symbolic drops of barbera (if that seems crazy, I once met a scottish woman who claimed she did the same thing with her daughter and whiskey).

    That said, and also that I’ve no real experience of living abroad so I can’t really compare, I’d like to say that you should not overromanticize (is that a word? Well…I’m allowed to do mistakes, it’s not my language after all) the effects of familiarity with alcohol. Here too there’s sort of a pride in impressing other people with how much wine you can drink, and getting drunk isn’t really that unusual.

    Also, and take this as a strictly aneddoctical evidence since I can’t remember my source, I remember reading some magazine years ago. They did a comparison between some italian region with a very strong tradition for alcohol and somewhere in the uk wih a similar tradition. Apparently, alcohol related issues were different in nature but just as bad. In uk it was : stay sober, then drink a lot on the week end and get hospedalized for alcohol poisoning or something. In italy it was drink 1 or 2 bottles a day, then die from liver failure at a young age.

    I never realized there were so many blogs of english speaking foreigners in italy. It’s very interesting to read an outsider’s view on italy (are we really THAT obsessed about digestion? Everybody seems to remark that).

    I’m really enjoying going back throu the archieves right now.



  8. sognatrice

    Great comments! I love the personal experiences because it shows what really works and what doesn’t without having to rely on what we imagine might be the case.

    And Luigi, benvenuto! There are definitely a lot of us in the blogosphere talking about our impressions of Italian life and culture–some of us grew up with a taste of it in America or elsewhere while others are experiencing things for the first time. I hope you enjoy reading our thoughts as much as I know we all enjoy sharing them–and we can learn together πŸ™‚

    And if you think digestion is a hot topic, wait till you get to the air that can cause your death, the dire labor market, and, of course, Le Veline!

    As to this subject, I absolutely agree that Italians get drunk too. It’s hard to explain, I think, and hopefully some others can help me, but when Italians are drunk, it’s usually in conjunction with doing something else…a 5 hour dinner with friends, for instance, and then the drunk behavior is even different–just, for the most part, more civilized even when drunk. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but we can only speak to our own experiences, and for me, the ingestion of alcohol here, on the whole, seems to be more controlled than in the States–especially when comparing the youth (who remember in the United States can’t legally have a drop of alcohol before their 21st birthday–I agree NYC/Caribbean ragazza…crazy!).

    Oh, and last but certainly not least, your English is fabulous, so feel free to use whatever words you like–whether they technically exist in English or not πŸ˜‰

  9. qualcosa di bello

    i came into the comments section with a post already in my head…one very much like tina’s. i was raised similarly & had no interest in the binging scene at my high school or college.

    without putting myself at legal risk here (living in the US with 4 underage children of my own), the only other comment i would make is that i still come down on this side of the issue πŸ˜‰

    & i wholeheartedly second NYC/carib ragazza…if you can die fighting for me in a war, you should be able to have a beer legally! ’nuff said.

  10. Frances

    I believe that wine at the dinner table would prevent children from binging.
    What I am against is parents who come home from work and unwind with an extended cocktail hour.
    I think extended cocktail hours tell kids – you can self-medicate with vodka to deal with stress.

  11. Tina

    I see what you mean Sognatrice, and it’s true.

    Italians do get drunk (oh I’ve seen it), but it’s a different kind of getting drunk.

    In the States it’s about being obnoxious and drinking as much as you possibly can in the shortest amount of time that you can. Then you just keep going. The whole point is to get drunk.

    When I’ve seen Italians get drunk, it’s much like you’ve said – it’s usually connected with a 5 hour dinner with friends, or in my case a few times, a conversation that is beautiful and deep and lasts for hours and by the time you’re finished chatting you realize how much wine you’ve had.

    I’ve seen Italians party and be crazy but I have NEVER seen them binge-drink with the purpose of getting drunk. In fact it seems to me like they are trying to show that they are not drunk (even if they may be).

  12. Jeni

    Ok, ancestry aside -I’m Scottish and Swedish in that respect. I grew up mainly with the Swedish side of my family tree. There was always (or almost anyway) a bottle of wine (usually Mogan David) and a fifth of some type of whiskey in the bottom cupboard in the kitchen -usually replenished each YEAR just before Christmas. Beer rarely ever was in the house. None of my Mom’s siblings nor my Mom drank other than perhaps one, two at the most, cocktails at some special gathering or, when friends called over the holidays, it was tradition to offer a glass of wine and then, those glasses were barely much bigger than a shot glass.
    I enjoy beer mainly, a few mixed drinks too now but there was a time in my life when I did indulge, often quite heavily. Not deliberately to get drunk – that was just sort of a celebratory by-product -celebrating a sports win, a wedding, promotion, Friday – you name it ya know. But there was also a fear of alcohol too because I learned later in my life my maternal grandfather had once had quite a problem with alcohol and just learned within the past 10 years that my paternal grandfather was, to put it bluntly, quite the drunk.
    Funny thing though -when I was a kid, my neighbor two doors over often would give his one daughter money to walk up to the local pub in town and get him a quart or 2 quarts of beer and I would always walk up there with her. The bartender always sold it to us too even though he knew full well – it was obvious -we were no where near being 21! All she did was tell him her dad wanted this, gave him the money and the deed was done. Today, one couldn’t do that and get away with it -first the bartenders won’t sell it and secondly, if they would, most likely the kids would be lying about getting it for their parents. The thought of buying beer and lying to the barkeep when we were kids though never crossed our minds then. Go figure how kids ideas/attitudes have changed over the years, huh?

  13. weimie

    Hmmm, what an interesting topic and comments. I live in a state in the US that has areas still commonly known as “dry” counties – where no alcoholic beverages are sold in stores or restaurants. (Although, you can drive 35 miles away to an area that is “wet” to purchase what you want and bring it home – and rumor has it that “bootlegging” is quite a lucrative business here as well). And that being said, lemme tell you – there are a BUNCH of drunks here!

    Now, there are also a great many people here that are totally against seeing our area go “wet” when it comes up in a vote next month. I’ve heard them site numerous stats and facts as to WHY it should remain dry here. But, for me, having grown up in a family that drank alcohol on frequent occasion (and gave each of us tastes of it along the way) it holds no enticement for me. It was not “something forbidden” that I couldn’t WAIT to be old enough to consume – as I saw all my friends do. The thrill, the taboo, whatever you want to call it – was GONE for me… although I still enjoy a glass of wine with dinner every now and then. Unfortunately, those same people that are in opposition to this – don’t seem to realize it’s HERE already! Regardless of it is SOLD locally or not.

    I think perhaps it is more a fear of “change” or a fear of the “unknown” that makes them want to pursue the whole “status quo” mentality. That is just my humble opinion.

    ps. thanks for your help. I got it done. duh… don’t know how I missed that box!

  14. Taffiny

    I don’t think we can just import the idea of drinking younger (though it seems to work well in Italian American homes)
    There is a whole other culture, way of being, that surrounds having a glass of wine in other countries. It just isn’t the same as here.
    I am not saying it is a bad idea, but that you can’t just allow kids to have alcohol here sooner and assume that will demystify it (change the way our entire culture looks at alcohol consumption.
    It is sort of like how we aren’t any healthier now just because we have started eating tofu. Yes other healthier cultures eat tofu, and drink green tea, but it all goes so much deeper than that). There would need to be a cultural shift, I would think, in adults, and in marketing, for this to truly (on a big scale) work.

    I don’t drink. So it would be weird for me to bring it into the house just to give to my son. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wine with dinner (I don’t happen to like the way it tastes). But it would be strange to try and introduce him to this as a way of life. ( I can’t help but resent the notion that this means I am setting him up to be a binge drinker). I could certainly discuss with him, how some other cultures drink.

    Beer? I admit I have some issues with beer. I don’t “get” the whole beer thing. It tastes really really nasty bad. Personally I am hyper about being super aware and in control of me, so I wouldn’t drink a lot even if it tasted good. I took tylenol with codeine once when sick, I will never ever ever do that again, trapped in a nightmare. Same with cold meds, only take the daytime stuff (and only at night), I hate the way the night time stuff makes me feel.
    My step-father drank a lot and was a very unpleasant person (he is still alive, mind you, I am just never around him when he is drinking now), so I think that contributes to my unease around alcohol consumption, it would make me uncomfortable if my husband drank a lot, a beer here and there is fine (so naturally, I gravitated toward a person who feels the same way).

    Would it help to introduce alcohol earlier in our culture? I don’t know. I think it would really depend on the individual child, some seeking a certain amount of shock, wildness, rebellion, may, seeing that beer wont do it, just move onto some other, stronger drug, that still has “an image”. And I am sure some will just develop drinking problems earlier. I would hope, and thus choose to believe however, that most would be just fine, wine with dinner, beer and a steak sandwich (is that what beer goes with?), no interest in bingeing. But my point is, I think we need to look at the whole culture within different cultures surrounding alcohol consumption, and not just look at bits and pieces, that work there, and assume it will translate.

  15. Dave

    I didn’t go read the posts or the article; but, in college I indulged in what you define as binge drinking. To my mind it was part of being out and on my own without the sensibility to be in that position.

    I don’t think it had anything to do with my parents allowing me to drink, or not drink, as a minor (the subject never came up, they never offered me alcohol, and I never asked).

    At a point, I grew up. On an occasion, I might “binge drink” given the definition. But it, whether right or wrong, is not a result of my upbringing – my parents never drank much.

    Were a kid to have a drinking problem, I don’t think it has anything to do with exposure to drinking. Rather, it has to do with other problems the kid has. Parents may be responsible but I don’t think serving the kid a glass of wine or beer, or not is the cause of the problems.

  16. Suebob

    When I was in Mexico, I was surprised to see, at the all-you-can-taste for one low price Mezcal Fair (mezcal is like tequila), there were no drunks. People were merry and tasting, sure, but at wine and beer tastings in the US, I routinely see people making staggering fools of themselves.

    I was surprised because Mexicans have this reputation as hard partyers and “El Borracho” is kind of a legendary figure, but people seemed interested in partying as in having fun, not partying as in getting loopy drunk.

    On the other hand, one of my good friends grew up in a house where he was allowed to drink from an early age and he became a serious alcoholic. I guess for some people that will happen no matter what.

  17. Scribbit

    This is an interesting perspective on a terrible epidemic, I hadn’t thought of it that way.

  18. Maryann

    I’m defending the Italian way of not making wine a big deal in the home. As far back as I could remember, us kids were given a few drops of red in our soda at dinner time. It was considered healthy for us. As a mother, I hardly ever had alcohol in the house because I just never found it that interesting. But if I occasionally had a drink and my kids asked for a taste, they got a taste. Americans are so restrictive and uptight about everything. If I put a coloring of wine into my kids soda would I be arrested for child abuse? This country is crazy! There is not one alcoholic in our family. Binging is part of growing up. You do it whether you enjoy it or not because your friends are doing it. It doesn’t last long.And then you grow up. A little wine is part of our culture and should be left alone. People should mind their own homes.

  19. Debbie Egizio

    Well, my brother and I grew up in an Italian/American home where, on occassion, our parents gave us a little diluted wine with sugar when they had a rare glass of wine at dinner.

    I also remember being curious about the fancy drinks that my Mom would get when we would go out to parties. I would ask for a sip, she’d give me a taste and didn’t act like it was a big deal. I was a little curious and my Mom satisfied my curiousity. My parents drank very little and alcohol was an accessible part of our life like a spice in the cabinet. In my mind, it was like anything else in our home.

    I actually was never a fan.
    and to this day I have a drink on a RARE occassion.
    I don’t know what I can really conclude. I wonder how much is environment as opposed to the possibility of someone having a pre dispostion to alcohol addiction.
    Very intereting topic! Loved reading all of the comments and really love your blog!!!

  20. Tarie

    Beer is a big thing in the Philippines. I think the Filipino culture and family set up does encourage all that drinking. Most Filipinos grow up seeing their fathers, uncles, and other older male relatives drinking beer – but they are not allowed to taste/drink too (by their families) until around the age of 16. Filipino teenagers often (every weekend!) drink to get drunk and I find it disgusting. There is no IMPLEMENTED drinking age restriction in the Philippines. Bars/clubs are often filled with high school and college students drinking. Heck, I remember going to a bar as a high school student IN MY GIRL SCOUT UNIFORM. The waitress didn’t even blink when I ordered some cocktails. (Don’t worry, that was a one time thing and I was with my brothers and cousins. In my defense, I don’t really drink. A year can pass without me drinking anything alcoholic.)

  21. Forty_Two

    Coming from a severely disfunctional family and graduating high school at the height of the drug culture, I consider myself lucky to be alive.

  22. sognatrice

    Awesome comments–keep ’em coming!

    I suppose it’s not surprising that since so many of my readers have some (or a lot of) Italian heritage, many of you grew up with wine being perfectly acceptable (and thanks for the Mexican example Suebob!).

    Thanks for sharing those experiences!

    Frances, you make an excellent point–there’s a fine line between making alcohol a normal, healthy (remember, a glass of red wine a day is supposed to be good for you!) part of the house atmosphere and turning it into a drinkfest from the time a parent gets home. OK, maybe it’s not such a fine line after all–good to point this out Frances!

    Tina, thanks for helping to explain what I was trying to say; much appreciated πŸ™‚

    Jeni, I remember going to our corner bar all the time as a kid–I wasn’t getting anything alcoholic for anyone, but still, I wasn’t supposed to be in there at all, right? I mean, I was probably around 10. I’d get some penny candy (yes, it cost a penny–Swedish Fish–yeah!), but I always felt like I was doing something naughty even though I had everyone’s permission….

    Anyway, kids in my village now buy beer (and cigarettes) all the time for adults–and they really are buying it for adults. Granted, I’m in a very small town, so there isn’t much enforcement of many laws at all πŸ˜‰ P always tells me that Calabria is about 50 years behind America, so I guess we still have a few years before the kids are refused service without ID in this little village (very similar to my little town growing up).

    Weimie, I’m embarrassed to say that I had *no* idea that there were “dry” and “wet” counties still around! I’m a bit beside myself right now. I have to look into this, as it’s just amazing to me….

    Taffiny, excellent, excellent point. It would never be just about introducing kids to alcohol at a younger age…especially not if the context of that is Mom and/or Dad getting wasted with their friends every day (obviously not the case in Mediterranean cultures). And then you add in the advertisements and general attitude of America regarding alcohol–complicated question to be sure.

    I’m a lot like you, incidentally–don’t actually enjoy the taste of many alcoholic beverages, but also…the control thing. I hear you.

    Dave, thanks so much for bringing this up. I agree with you too–all kids are not created equal, so to speak, so what works on one won’t necessarily work on the other, and then you bring in genetic predispositions to addiction, and well, there’s no easy answer.

    My mom and I were just talking about this yesterday and how even with two kids in the same family it’s difficult to know what will “work.” Actually we got started about smoking. My parents (as well as the grandmother that I lived with) smoked growing up (although my father off and on), and neither my brother nor I smoke, and in fact, HATE it. Neither of P’s parents smoke and yet he and about half of his brothers and sisters do…so what’s a parent to do?

    As Taffiny said, introducing alcohol into a house just for the sake of doing so when the parents don’t really drink anyway? Well that hardly seems logical either.

    But yes, environment and predisposition both weigh into this, as Debbie wrote.

    Tarie, thanks for the info on the Philippines too–something else I didn’t know.

    Forty_Two, so glad that you’ve been lucky–all of us are in our way after all. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  23. Anonymous

    Sognatrice, thank you for the welcome. Especially the “feel free to use whatever words you like–whether they technically exist in English or not” I’ll take that as my double zero :licence to misspell.

    Now, I think I’m getting a clearer picture. Indeed, though there are quite a few situations where getting at least a bit unsure on your feet is an expected part of the experience, drinking just to get drunk does seem like a weird idea.

    From my limited, one sided prospective, I very much agree with Taffiny. There is a specific mentality and a lot little rituals and cultural assumptions in seing alcohol as a part of fun rather then fun in itself. Lacking those, just offering more alcoholic beverages at a younger age wouldn’t solve anything. It would be like hoping to solve the italian bourocratic mess by adding more obbligatory modules (1)

    I’m a bit embarassed of having made my first appearance in a topic where Italy appears in such a favorable light, I really don’t mean to appear to be bragging or anything. Maybe I’ll compensate later on by writing something in a topic about common courtesy while driving a car. Or about efficient burocracy. Or about… well, i suspect pretty much anything wolud do except cooking and very old monuments. We do need some improving here and there.

    Oh, and regarding the veline, I see nothing wrong in them. Of course they have a serious lack of talent, but as long as that’s accompanied by an equivalent lack of clothes they can appear on my tv anytime they like. πŸ™‚ (just joking : the awfullness of tv programs is such that I only use my television to watch movies on dvd, even though it has the effect of cutting me away from many conversations. The ubiquous scantily clad girls decorating the studios are definitely ridiculous and a part of that awfullness ).

    As you can see, being concise is my strongest point.

    Back to lurking, now.



    (1) a customer satisfaction module, for example. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful idea? Of course it would have to be in carta bollata and filed in three copies in three different offices in different parts of town, but nobody would tell you beforehand *which* three offices. I heard that keeping your mind busy with problem solving helps to prevent alzheimer, and here we really care about your health (close that window, btw, that air will kill you!).

  24. sognatrice

    Luigi, well it’s clear you have a sense of humor about your country–always a good thing to have πŸ™‚

    Too funny about the customer satisfaction forms! You forgot the part about Office A being open only on Tuesdays from 10-11.30 a.m. πŸ˜‰ You’re so right, though, about the Italian bureaucracy really only being concerned with our health–excellent point! Maybe that’s why the life expectancy is so much higher here….

    Love your take on the Veline as well…and I hope you’ll be delurking more than lurking in the future….

  25. african vanielje

    Sognatrice, as usual this is a thought provoking post. I am not a great drinker, but find I do drink more socially than I used to. I very seldom drink at home by myself, but thouroughly enjoy sitting in the garden and seeing the sunset in of a summer’s evening with my neighbours and a couple of glasses of wine or a delicious cocktail. We even enjoy our slightly drunken rambling conversations, but we do this at home, and slightly drunken for me only takes one glass. When we go out we hardly ever drink as we are always driving and one drunk partner is no fun. The point is are you drinking to get drunk or to enjoy and enhance a lovely meal and the company of good friends? Salt in excess is not good for you but is a much needed flavour enhancer. Alcohol can be seen in much the same way. Instead of shrouding it in wickedness, let’s just teach our kids to enjoy it sparingly – moderation in (almost) all things, that’s my motto, and I’m sticking to it…most of the time.

  26. Dee

    I think excessive indulgence depends not only on parental upbringing but also the friends the kids hang out with.
    The best a parent can hope to do is teach them the value of life and the tools to make the right choices at every stage.(be it chosing the right friends or all the ill effects of addiction)

    So, I don’t think it particularly matters whether you expose them to wine/beer early enough, to remove the intrigue and mystery behind it.

  27. Anonymous

    A glass of wine is something I have always enjoyed as part of a meal, and I have never been a binge drinker. My husband — otherwise a creative and highly productive man — is someone who, when he drinks, drinks solely to become drunk, one of those issues that wasn’t so obvious long ago but that has significantly worsened with time.

    Our teenager hates his drinking and vows never to have any alcohol at all. It’s an issue we frequently discuss: we talk, and I hope.

  28. janeywan

    I have a 21 yo that drinks way to much! He has never seen his father drink, (he gave it up cold turkey when I was pregnant).

    I drink rarely, but he has seen me drink and actually he’s seen my wasted.

    I wish I had know about this 20 years ago. We’ve been anti drinking pretty much his entire life.

    So I’m on the fence with this one.

  29. rochambeau

    Thankfully drinking wine was normal, so it has always been a natural part of life. I felt sorry for the girls in school (college)that did not have my upbringing!

    I adore wine! always have. It is one of the joys of life! coffee too!

  30. Gumby

    I think Europeans in general have much healthier attitudes about alcohol, food, and the human body. I think introducing wine to children removes the ‘forbidden’ factor, and gives it a more normal healthier place in their lives. and everyone should be able to enjoy a glass of a nice Italian rosso!

  31. Jen

    I would second gumby – I’m shocked at many of our ideas in the U.S. about raising children and wonder why we have so much fear about letting children have experiences in the protection of their own homes. I think this doesn’t just extend to drinking, but in terms of the “just say no” approach to sex, rather than properly educating them on the use of condoms and on STDs, pregnancy, etc. and also the fact that we’re so manic to put cars in the hands of our teens. But it’s also true that our habits and binge drinking, just like binge eating and the prevalence of McDonald’s and Starbucks, are invading Europe and creating problems for teens there, too.

  32. Ryan

    I just wanted to tell you that until now I was overwhelmed by your blog and didnt have to time to read it. I still am a little overwhelmed..there is sooo much! But I have just started reading from the beginning and am now addicted. I will be reading month by month and slowly cathing up. I love it! Thanks!

  33. Ryan

    Ok, a few things….how long did it take you to learn italian? and how did you do it? I really want t learn and am learning a lot of words but still dont understand most conversations and cant have one on my own. I’m not complaining because i have only been here for a month and a half but i just dont want to waste any time and want to be sure i am doing everything i can..
    also, I just read about your birthday package from last year and was wondering if mail always takes so long or if it is just the luck of the draw? I am worried about a package my mom sent me that hasnt arrived yet….
    also, not to brag but we have peanut butter up here….i bought it the other day in the supermarket as I was very excited to finally find it….

  34. JennDZ - The Leftover Queen

    I do believe this is so. I have lived in Europe and I believe there is a much more healthy attitude towards alcohol consumption. I am not sure that this is something we can start doing in America, as there is already presedence. But I do think if kids don’t see alcohol as taboo, it is much better in the long run!

  35. Elizabeth

    my Italian sons are 18 and 19.They have a beer or wine sometimes when out with friends, or with us for formal family meals, but they just don’t understand why those American kids get so excited about getting drunk — it is out of their cultural code. This summer in the US, they got carded and couldn’t enter a pub with live music (just to listen to the music and have a coke) with their 21 and 24 year old cousins. They all ended up hanging out for the evening in a hotel room. I guess this fosters responsible adult behavior?

  36. Gil

    This post and the related comments has to be a record breaking event for a blogger! Before I start raambling I want to congratulate everyone for all of the effort put into their writings.

    My Grandparents were all from Italy and growing up we all had alcoholic beverages in our homes.

    I was never aware of drinking in high school until the end of my senior year in the Spring of 1962. It wasn’t until then that I heard rumors about the “rich” kids and the “jocks” having parties where they got drunk. One day just before we graduated a couple of guys I fished with went camping for a weekend and one of them got some beer from his cheerleader friend. He got a case of beer (12oz. cans) one six pack each and one spare in case we ran out. I don’t think that any of us finished our six pack when my friend’s parents, that owned the fishing camp, showed up and we all dove into the muddy leech infested waters!

    After that it was off to New York for college at 17. At that time NY had a minimum age of 18 for alcohol purchases. I did drink and sometimes drank too much but never remember drinking with the plan of getting wasted. I liked the taste of beer and liquor that I was drinking. Throughout my life I knew plenty of people that drank and drink too much but don’t remember one person intentionally drinking to get wasted. Musst be the old age!

    Ciao for now!

  37. Anonymous

    Meanwhile, as you think that us should go the italian way, italy is thinking about going the us way


    (for not italian speaking people : that’s a proposal to make illegal to sell alcohol to underage people)

    I really consider a funny sort of sichroncity the fact that this appears in the papers appears right now that you’re discussing the opposite idea .

    Oh, and yes, I do have a sense of humour about my contry. Being italian means either becoming a “Devi fare quello ceh ti dico io, TU DEVI PORTARMI RISPETTO” yelling sort of guy or developing a sense of humour. The former are more successful in getting what they want, but i belive the latter have more fun.


  38. Anonymous

    i have been IDed in Italy!!! Was one of the regular places i went to at lunchtimes to have a panino. ON this one occasion i decided to splash out and have plate of pasta and a beer. ID please? My reply was that I didn’t realise there was a drinking age in italy, and the reply was there most certainly is and are you over 18???? Don’t know who was more shocked, me at being IDed in ITaly, or the lady who saw my age on my drivers licence as being well and truly 18+++!

    This is probably going to sound crackpot but my personal theory on alcohol consumption is people from traditionally warm climates do not drink much alcohol. If you look at all throughout the middle east, Mediterranean, india and africa there seems not to be a culture of binge drinking. Whereas if you look at norhtern european cultures there is. And the further north you go, the bigger the binges. Russia probably topping the list. In my theory, people in cold/ dark places drink more alcohol to be merry. But people in warm places don’t need alcohol for that. They have the sun and an outdoor life. Plus imagine how terrible a hangover would feel in a hot place!

    Over time people have emigrated and taken their cultural beliefs and habits with them. So for example the italians in USA, australia etc don’t drink that much. But the english expats/ descendents in South Africa, Australia and NZ do.

    I know in my family we were raised with my parents having a drink or two at dinner and we were allowed a sip if we wanted. I think my dad is a borderline alcoholic whereas my mother would only have 1 drink if that. IN our family of 4 kids, 3 of us have the odd drink, whereas one drinks far too much IMO. So i guess culture/ habits and genetics as well as personality all have roles to play.

    BTW i think they have different drinking patterns in the north of italy. When i have been there i am shocked at the amount of semi drunk people in the aperitivi bars, and the common practice was to have a drink at one then move on to the next one. People here in the south would only ever go for ONE drink.

    And finally, my husband does liver surgery and said there IS a problem (in sicily) with alcoholics as the number of liver cirrhosis cases he comes up against is on the rise and not that different to the ones he saw in London! Vanessa

  39. Kataroma

    I think the US drinking laws (limiting alcohol to those over 21) are just stupid and weird. The strictness with which they enforce the law is even weirder. I once tried to buy a 6 pack of beer (when I was 29) at a 7-11 in Austin, Texas and they would not sell it to me with my Australian passport as ID. They said that they would not even accept a US passport as it was against the law in Travis County to sell alcohol to anyone who did not have a valid Texas drivers license as proof of age. So much for promoting Austin as the “live music capital of the world” – technically, no one from outside Texas (ie not in possession of a Texas license) can go into a bar and buy a drink.

    NOt having gone to college in the US, I have no idea what the binge drinking is like but if I were a US college student I’d be pretty angry that I couldn’t even enter a bar.

  40. jessica

    Here in switzerland the binge drinking certainly happens, but I don’t think it is because they drink wine with their kids at the table. i think it is because the drinking age is 16…
    how the parents handle their own drinking, and how involved they are with their kids probably makes the biggest difference.
    i think the american college binge drinking is very much part of the expectation kids have that college will be this whole new, limitless, free world…and they go overboard. i know that europeans get drunk too, but they just dont seem to feel like it is something they are entitled to do, and must do, to fulfill some phase of life.

  41. Italiana Americana

    I agree it it is very healthy to have kids surrounded by wine and drinking at a young age–I grew up in this enviornment and that is why when I go to the University here in america (where everyone drinks til the point of blacking out–thurs, fri and sat) I was not interested in living this kind of life. It is no big deal to me..but to most students (espec under-agers) it’s so valuable to have a bottle of alchol . I realize that everytime I go to italy at the italian universities they do think “us americans” are more or less ubrikata every night! I think it prob does have some effect on the italian students

  42. Wanderlust Scarlett

    I think kids growing up with wine at meals is a good thing; in moderation, just like everything else.

    Excess is the problem. Excess anything is bad. A small bit of wine helps the heart and assists in digestion, too much will kill brain cells and do damage.

    I think being allowed wine with meals as a child/teen definitely detracts from it’s mystique and the draw of the ‘unknown and not allowed’.
    I believe it would significantly reduce binge drinking; the evidence of that lies in the much smaller percentages of alcoholism and binge drinkers in countries where it is the norm to consume alcohol on a moderate level.


    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

  43. Chickenbells

    My mother went through AA and swears that the alcoholism problem in countries that let their underaged people drink is much higher…But everytime I go to Italy, I don’t notice a bunch of drunk people staggering around (maybe I’m not going to the right places? Here, you see them quite a bit)

    I grew up in a small town in AZ, and there was a lot of underaged drinking going on here, in fact, we used to joke that by the time we turned 21 we were all really burnt out about the drinking thing…I noticed a lot of binge drinking on the weekend among teenagers and college students. And, I think it totally depends on the person and their experiences whether or not they decided to continue to imbibe…I think if you don’t let someone do something, it becomes so fascinating to them, that they just HAVE to do it…

  44. Nasruddin

    I tend towards the point of view that it’s a little nature and a little nurture.

    My parents were alcoholic, and I grew up surrounded by cheap Scotch in shatterproof bottles and late-night screaming fests. My fidanzata’s grandparents were alcoholic, so her Mom was pretty abstemious, and her Dad just had the occasional beer or three.

    Now, as adults, both my girl and me are all-or-nothing drinkers; either water and ice or enough vodka to make the next morning hell. My own take on it is we have the alcoholic gene exacerbated by adolescences where we spent half the night trying to find alcohol and the rest of it trying to destroy the evidence as quickly as possible.

    I think the Italian cultural norms about drinking are different, as all have noted, but it seems to me that it’s not JUST family upbringing. I would venture to guess that an Italian kid raised in the U.S. with Italian parents might be just as likely to be a binge drinker as an American kid, depending on the company she keeps as an adolescent.

    Of course, I’d be happy to be proved wrong – and I am hoping that when we make the move to Italy, my girl and me will outgrow our bad drinking habits!

  45. SabineM

    Great post. Something I often discuss here! I am Swiss born to Swiss Parents and though maybe not as liberal as Italians we were often offered alcohol. I NEVER liked nor wanted to drink. I moved to the States as a 13 year old and didn’t drink until I was out of college. I hated the taste and hated to see my friends out of control. I ended up always being the designated driver.
    I have since caught up! I LOVE wine now! LOVE IT! I don’t binge drink, but I DO ENJOY IT immensely.
    My brother was raised the same way, he is 3 1/2 years younger and also never drank in H.S. and University. NOw he has an occasional beer or glass of wine.
    We have a 13 and a 2 year old. I always offered alcohol to taste to my 13 year old (we also lived in Switzerland with her from 8-11 years old). She so far hates it!
    My parents followed the same rule with smoking. They didn’t forbid it (don’t forget I grew up in Switzerland until 13) then we moved here to California, so smoking wasn’t as big a deal around me.
    I never smoked!
    I am almost 100% convinced that if you don’t make it taboo then kids are less likely to go after it. I discuss this often with my American friends.
    If you don’t mind, I mind post something about that on my blog, see what I responses I get. Let me know if it is ok.
    Though I do not get near the traffic that you do!
    GREAT POST! I love this topic !

  46. J.Doe

    Wine is part of many Jewish holidays so I being Jewish kind of grew up with it. It was ni big deal as a young child and no big deal as an older one either. It didn’t impress me when I turned 21 and could legally buy the stuff in the US as it did many of my co-age counterparts.
    I do remember when I was 7 years old and my beer drinking father gave me a sip of his beer. It was so bitter to my sweet-toothed 7 year old palette that even to this day (33 years later) I don’t like the taste of beer, even though now I can manage more than a sip or two.
    i think parents should expose their children to wine and beer at a young age so when they turn ‘legal’ they won’t be as lkely to binge drink because wine and beer will be as routine for them as any non-alcoholic drink.

  47. mamacita chilena

    haha, that’s funny. Anybody who thinks a glass of wine with the family dinner will stop binge drinking is thinking wishfully…

    I live in Chile. Children are frequently exposed to alcohol at young ages…a glass of a wine, a sip of beer, families openly embibing small amounts in front of their kids.

    Yet, this country, I would say, is on par or worse off than the U.S. as far as binge drinking goes.

    Two totally different cultures and rules when it comes to exposing children to alcohol, same result.

    Kids drink to get drunk because they want to get drunk. Period.

  48. Italian woman

    Ciao bella sognatrice. I just stopped by to say hello and got fascinated by this topic. I do think Italians handle booze better than Americans, but it’s all anecdotal. I’d love to see what the experts say.

    What I’ve noticed in our Italian-American family is that it’s not okay to be drunk in public, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t drink heavily behind closed doors. It’s like eating. Nobody can say how much somebody else indulges.

    I do think it’s unfair to blame Americans for the noise level in Campo dei Fiori. My son and I stayed there last summer and were kept up all night by italians talking loudly outside our window. It was ciao this and ciao that all night. It was horrendous for the first two nights and then we just got used to it and slept like babies.

    We saw many Italians drinking, but no falling down drunks.

    P.S. I really like the new haircut. You’re working it, girl!

  49. Danielle Blogging for Balance

    We just had this discussion last week in my Intro Psychology class and in my Developmental Psychology class. Many of my students made the comment about wine with meals. However, one of the arguments (since we were talking about the disease model of addiction) is that some people only need that one drink to start the addiction cycle. As for binge drinking…that all dovetails into the adolescent brain and it’s development…until the age of about 21 the brain continues to be undeveloped and the capacity to make good decisions is just not running at full throttle….so binge drinking will always exist…with or without that wine with dinner. πŸ˜‰

  50. sognatrice

    Another great set of comment. I really don’t have too much more to add, but I will say that I wholeheartedly agree with those of you that encourage moderation in all things and that parents can only teach their children what’s right and wrong in a general way and then hope they follow those guidelines in making decisions.

    Binge drinking will never completely go away (just like any vice you can name)–the question is how to best arm our children when presented with the opportunity to drink as much as they want, and that always starts at home with the behavior of the parents. No, introducing alcohol at an early age wouldn’t, in and of itself, stop binge drinking, but I think as many of you have expressed, having that mystique/taboo removed for you from an early age seemed to have steered you toward responsible drinking as adults–I’m guessing this is because the alcohol was introduced responsibly and not in drinking contests with parents and children πŸ˜‰

    Great, great discussion and I thank you all so much for participating!

    And if you have more to say, don’t let me stop you!

  51. sognatrice

    Ryan, I’d say it took a good six months until I was comfortable with what I was understanding and feeling able to communicate what I wanted–even longer until I felt like I sounded remotely intelligent when I tried to form sentences. Be patient!

    As for the mail, I got a book in the mail from the US that was mailed on September 10…today, October 9. Best of luck. Yes, luck of the draw seems to be the key phrase as I’ve had other stuff come within a week.

    Luigi, thanks so much for the link! What a coincidence, eh?

    And Sabine, definitely feel free to post on this–the more discussion the better!!!

  52. Enrico

    Hi, I’m a new “native” fan!
    I think somehow the relationship between Italians and alcohol is influenced by the “bella figura” thing: if you want to appear at your best you have to be in control. Looking wasted and throwing up on the streets is not the best thing to be known for.

  53. Karina

    I’m a little late to the game here, but I had to chime in…Like Qualcosa, I too had a comment all ready to post, and then began reading the comments, and realized most of what I was going to say, has been said…so…I’m just going to go with it anyway.

    This is actually a discussion that I have had on several different occasions with different people. I too was brought up in a home (Portuguese-American, not Italian) where alcohol was ever present. Like many of the commenters, I have many memories of being allowed a sip of wine, or a “watered down” version of whatever mom was drinking with dinner, especially on the big holidays. My cousins and I would delight in the fact that we were partaking of the “adult conversations” with our glasses of “wine” when we were as young as 10 or 11. Even before that, I have memories of eating escargot at a bar with my dad in Portugal, while he drank a beer, and now and again would let me take a sip. As has been said, alcohol was never taboo, therefore, it was never an issue. In highschool, when all my classmates were going out and binge drinking, I wasn’t the least bit interested. And to this day I’ve never gotten so drunk as to “black-out” or get sick from it. I’ve always enjoyed a social drink, but have always been the one to drink less than everyone around me. Does this mean that my parents allowing me to drink at a young age prevented me from binge drinking? I don’t know. My brother was brought up in the same household (although he is 9 years younger than me), and he definitely indulged in the binge drinking culture with his friends as a high schooler. But on the same token, even if he did indulge, he knew my parents wouldn’t be upset with him for drinking too much, therefore, he never felt the need to drive home drunk so he wouldn’t get caught out being drunk. He’d simply call home and say “I’m too drunk to drive, I’m not coming home”.

    I think the commenter who said that you’d have to change the whole of the culture was closer to the solution.

    It was really interesting reading all the comments/ the full discussion on this.

  54. sognatrice

    Enrico, you make an *excellent* point about the bella figura…the concept is usually one that annoys the hell out of me, but I suppose in this case it actually works for the better.

    And benvenuto!

    Karina, I’m so glad you went ahead with your comment πŸ™‚ Another culture heard from, and more mixed results. I think we’re seeing here that, as always, it’s so hard to generalize and say “yes this works” or “no it doesn’t.” So many different factors must be considered…sometimes it amazes me that civilization has continued for so long πŸ˜‰

  55. Stella Devine

    Binge drinking is endemic here in Australia. It’s not only acceptable to get painfully drunk, it’s worn like a badge of honour. Everybody has a story about a six star hangover, or passing out in a bar, or coming home in a paddy wagon. Instead of being ashamed of this, we brag about it. I work for a company that tends to promote excessive drinking. We have regular awards nights where alcohol is not only provided, but encouraged. You all hit your sales targets this month? Spirits on the bar!

    Unfortunately a study published here recently (sorry, but I can’t find the link at the moment) found that children who drank any amount of alcohol at home were much more likely to become binge drinkers later on than those who had none.

    I agree with Enrico’s comment that it is far more likely to be the concept of ‘la bella figura’ that keeps Italians from drinking than a few sips of wine at the dinner table growing up. There are myriad cultural influences that contribute.

    A positive Australian social change that has occurred over the last thirty years is the denigration of drink driving. We have random breath tests, particularly around problem times such as Christmas/New Year’s, and any driver blowing over 0.05 is charged. Drivers in their first three years of having a licence have a zero limit. Punishment includes fines, community service, loss of licence and in some cases, jail terms. Although these laws are strictly enforced by the police, they are upheld by the community. People really think that if you drink and drive, you are a bloody idiot.

    I have hope that like our attitude to drink driving, our acceptance of excessive drinking overall will diminish over time. After all, during World War II, Australia had the world’s highest rate of smoking, at 75% of adults, and today I understand we have the lowest. All it takes is a complete change in attitude and an enormous social change. Yeah. Good luck with that.

  56. sognatrice

    Stella, thanks so much for your comment! It’s always interesting to read about other countries and how they deal with the same issues.

    As has been said, I’m sure, I think *the way* children are introduced to alcohol is the most important, not necessarily the age at which it happens. If mom or dad is always drunk, well, I think studies show that alcoholism definitely runs in families. On the other hand, if mom and dad drink responsibly, I think that can go a long way in showing children the right way to incorporate alcohol into their lives.

    It’s such a hard balance, and as you said, will take a great social change. Not easy, but those cigarette stats give me hope!

  1. [...] What’s Cooking Wednesday recipe comes straight from my Italian-American grandmother, who introduce... bleedingespresso.com/2008/08/whats-cooking-wednesday-peaches-soaked-in-red-wine.html
Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

Calabria Guidebook

Calabria travel guide by Michelle Fabio



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake