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The traveling column: drinking culture in Scotland

It is a well-known fact that in the U.K., people can legally drink and buy alcohol at age 18 instead of the ripe old age of 21 in the U.S. It was a shock to say the least, coming to Scotland from the dry campus of West Chester. Drinking is so dominant in Edinburgh, with what seems like a bar on every street, and this culture flourishes extensively into university life.

The University of Edinburgh, considering this demand, has numerous campus bars for students to enjoy. In Teviot Row House alone (the student union building), there are four bars to provide students with affordable drinks while also giving them a safe environment to enjoy themselves in. The copious amount of campus bars provides the university with more revenue, in addition to acting as a venue for many university events. 

Students quickly come to know what they like and don’t like, as well as how to safely drink while having fun.

By having and embracing a drinking culture, the University of Edinburgh is able to improve the social scene for its students by running events such as clubbing nights, comedy acts, concerts and workshops (like whisky tastings.) The university bars also play a part in the society scene at the university. By hosting meetings/events as well as allowing students to grab a drink during society meetings, students are able to have a more enjoyable and casual time, transforming a weekly meeting into a weekly hangout.

The Edinburgh drinking culture extends much further than just the campus scene. In a country famed for its whiskey and gin production, Edinburgh’s drinking culture can be seen everywhere you look. Almost all cafés and restaurants sell alcohol. It is a strange sight for me, as an American, to see a beer and wine list up next to the lattes and teas offered at local cafés. It is even stranger to go through entire aisles in the supermarket devoted to selling all different types of alcohol, so uncommon for a Pennsylvanian grocery store. 

Because bars are so common, originality and quality become paramount in choosing where to grab a pint. This niche gives the people of Edinburgh, especially the students, the pick of the litter of top-notch bars. Quickly, you learn where to go and on what day to get the best deal. The bar themes abound, from a Frankenstein-themed pub to a speakeasy bar — and the best part is many bars offer a student discount!

There are hundreds of bars in Edinburgh as well as countless more locations with liquor licenses, which can add up to a seemingly extreme number. It is easy to joke that Edinburgh is an alcoholic’s paradise and that it is irresponsible to allow kids at 18 to have free reign, but I would disagree. 

Drinking culture is so established for students here and yes, it can hit an excessive level at times, but the younger drinking age works well. Drinking in the U.K. is regarded so casually with many people drinking before the age of 18. Because students grow up around this environment, they are able to establish a responsible drinking habit. Students quickly come to know what they like and don’t like, as well as how to safely drink while having fun.

This perspective is in strong contrast with U.S., especially West Chester, where alcohol is regarded with suspicion and alarm, forcing many students to flock to frats and house parties to drink whatever they can get their hands on. The undertone that drinking is “forbidden” is motivation enough for American students to drink underage. The result of such an environment means young people are not learning how to consume alcohol safely or confidently. 

Frat houses aside, students also miss out on the kind of community and camaraderie created by a campus that embraces and regulates drinking with a more active social scene. West Chester students never get to experience the enjoyment and unity created by going out for pub nights for a club meeting or attending university comedy nights and concerts. 

Events like this allow students to get comfortable in a nerve-wracking social scene by taking part in the solidary act of drinking.

Though I doubt America will change its drinking age any time soon, I do believe West Chester University as a campus can do more in fostering a safer and more enjoyable social scene by recognizing the inevitability of students drinking. If there wasn’t such a stigma on drinking, students might have a more beneficial environment in which to consume alcohol as well as have a good time. The joke is on me, though. I am returning to West Chester University underage after a full year of drinking legally in Scotland — not that this stops many West Chester University students.

Maria Marabito is a second-year student majoring in English writings track. MM883631@wcupa.edu

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