“Spring Break” Abroad?: Don’t Get Carried Away

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The State Department’s “@TravelGov” Twitter feed got into some social media trouble because of a single tweet on Wednesday. After attempts to explain it to several offended, irate tweeters, the department gave up and simply deleted it a couple of hours later. The New York Times caught it before it was removed:

Screen capture of Twitter.
Screen capture of Twitter.

Those tweeters, and the NYT above, focused on the tweet’s dopey “lookist” opener, but ignored the rest of it. What the department was merely trying to do there – albeit in a bumbling manner – was not to insult anyone. Rather it aimed to warn U.S. college students traveling abroad for Spring Break to be mindful of their personal safety when out having “a good time.”

Meaning forget that opening two sentence silliness. I suppose this is the former university teacher coming out of me here. The tweet should have been straightforward: Don’t let your guard down when clubbing with strangers who may not be pleasant new acquaintances but actually – to be blunt – con artists and thugs flattering you in looking for an easy mark to rob and/or worse. Got it?

Although that would have been too long for a single tweet, of course.

The minor uproar over its silly reference to a student’s looks – which actually could have applied equally to young men as much as to young women; either sex naturally can be preyed upon much the same way – unfortunately crowded out a closely related issue. It is one that is not discussed nearly enough in such advice. It should be.

Simply put, the “age 21” U.S. national drinking age makes American 18, 19 and 20 year olds traveling or studying abroad vulnerable. Dropped into societies that drink at “18,” the Americans arrive lacking pub/bar legal experience and the associated social skills (some defensive) that go along with legal alcohol consumption that their foreign counterparts have, for instance, here in Western Europe. In short, when it comes to booze, U.S. college students are inexperienced in how to handle it abroad where they can drink legally because they haven’t been allowed to drink legally at home.

In that Tenerife restaurant I wrote about the other day, that Czech/Slovak family I mentioned contained two definitely age “18-20” young women openly drinking alcohol as part of their meal. That behavior of course is totally illegal anywhere in the U.S. Indeed in the U.S. that restaurant would have been targeted by police and the server herself arrested for serving alcohol to “a child.”

View from a Tenerife footpath. Canary Islands, Spain. [Photo by me, 2016.]
View from a Tenerife footpath. Canary Islands, Spain. [Photo by me, 2016.]

The “21” law also encourages college age Americans abroad possibly to “overindulge” when they discover they can drink legally. I’ve personally seen exactly that sort of behavior. The newfound freedom to drink could thus prove personally dangerous to them due to their “immaturity” in dealing with alcohol and the legal social scene in which it is consumed.

That young woman who talks to you in the London pub? That Spanish guy chatting with you in that bar? That fun group of guys and gals you and a friend happen to fall in with in that Paris sidewalk restaurant? Chances are nothing bad will happen to you – just be aware of yourself, your surroundings and, especially, your alcohol limitations:

Screen capture of Twitter.
Screen capture of Twitter.

That’s all. Enjoy your trip and/or your time studying abroad. Just be cautious in bars and pubs, and especially when consuming the booze you can drink legally here but not while back at home. ๐Ÿ™‚

2 comments

    1. They should reduce it to 18 again. They raised it initially because of the battle against drunk driving. We’ve largely “solved” that – mostly through education, but also due to better enforcement and tougher sentencing of offenders.

      But now 21 is clearly underscoring the trouble in colleges especially with the binge-drinking frat culture. Because they can’t drink legally anywhere, they do it illicitly and binge in dorms and at parties.

      18 is adulthood, and we should treat it that way if we expect 18, 19 and 20 year olds to act like adults. There will always be drinking among “young people” as among us “olds,” but we didn’t have this ugly binge-drinking culture trouble in college back “in my day” that they clearly have now.

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