All entries for Wednesday 14 March 2007

March 14, 2007

The Netherlands: A Nation of Drinkers?

In the Netherlands, they start early.Having visitors over from the Netherlands reminds me just how widely the drinking culture has spread in my country.

Relating this piece to some personal experiences. From my visiting sister, I hear stories of sixteen-year-olds buying a round for everyone out with them, usually some fifteen of them. If everyone then buys a “racket of beer”, each one ends up drinking 15 glasses of beer on a night.

When I tell a visiting friend of my age that people in Barcelona really do not drink quite as much as their Dutch counterparts, he ironically adds: “I´m not too sure about that”. Yet my housemates look on with some surprise when they see bottles of wine and beer being opened and finished during dinner, even before ten o´clock. Let alone half a bottle of wodka on a Tuesday night. Is this a defining characteristic of the Dutch?

Dutch Disease
A first, down-to-earth analysis would say: no, this is a wider European phenomenon. However, loosening morals among parents as well as rapidly changing drinking habits among youngsters appear to prove that this surely is a worryingly Dutch problem.

A statistic taken from medicalfacts.nl tells us that youngsters on holidays (I presume in the age group of roughly 16-18) drink an average of 17 beers a day for boys, and 7 for girls. Research from that same year shows that an estimated 1,500 “beer huts” exist throughout the country where young people with an average age of 18 go drinking cheaply before they go out. The average consumption of beer on such occassions is as much as 12 bottles of beer (a little less than 4 litres) and some participants are as young as 13 years old.

Another indicating example. Between 1999 and 2003, the number of 12-year-old girls whom at least once tried alcohol nearly doubled from 4 out of 10 to 7 of 10.

In search of solutions
A problem that seems to lack clear-cut solutions, it has now come as far as being discussed among crucial agenda points for political parties. In a publication from 2006 the Dutch appeared as Europe´s most alcohol-consuming youths, while much of this drinking seems to take place outside of parents´ or guardians´ control, within the social circle of people their age.

Urgent questions to be asked are: How is it possible that alcohol laws can still not be enforced? How can under 16s buy beer, and under 18s strong alcohol? How can the lax attitude of many parents be reversed, an attitude which seems to be rather fearful of seeming severe, than responsible? And, perhaps most urgently and directly, to what extent can public policy address such problems and reverse such trends?

For the moment, reversal seems far from realistic. And thus, thirteen- or fourteen-year-old students wil continue to down fruity-flavoured liqours before entering school parties.


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