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The Other Night in Mammoth: Tonic on the House

The other night, at a bar in Mammoth, California, I ordered a glass of tonic (with ice and a slice of lime). No alcohol because I do not drink alcohol. My husband went for beer. When it came to paying the bar tender wouldn't charge us for the tonic. Why so? "If you are driving nonalcoholic drinks are on the house." I was driving. Thank you!

Can you imagine something like this happening in Austria? My friends in Vienna still find it hard to believe that somebody would not drink alcohol. Never? they ask. Not even wine? And what about beer? In bars in Austria I have heard of rounds of vodka or tequila on the house but never of free nonalcoholic beverages.

International data consistently show that Austria is a leading country when it comes to alcohol consumption. According to the World Health Organization Austrians (age 15+) consume 12.7 litres of pure alcohol per year. That is 50 percent more than Americans (8.5 litres). Of the 189 countries listed in the WHO's database only six match or exceed Austria's alcohol quota. They are Andorra (12.8 litres), the Czech Republic (14.8), Estonia (16.2), France (13.2), Ireland (13.4), and Saint Lucia (12.7).*

A survey published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism shows similar findings but focusses on young people in Europe and America. Abstinence rates among 15­ and 16 year olds in the 36 countries surveyed differ greatly. In Turkey (which is Muslim) 65 percent of students claim not to have consumed alcohol in the past twelve months. In the U.S. it is 41 percent, in Austria seven. Denmark and the Czech Republic (both five percent), Germany (seven), the Isle of Man and Lithuania (both six) have equal or lower abstinence rates.

Numbers aside I would not want to ban alcohol anywhere. In California the legal drinking age is 21 and that is too high. Prohibition encourages secrecy and results in binge drinking. Educating young men and women about the risks of alcohol, encouraging people of all ages not to drive when under the influence, and imposing strict fines when they are found to do so seems more appropriate. After all, if people are not old enough for us to trust them with a glass of wine - how come we let them drive, bear guns, and die as U.S. soldiers in overseas wars?

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* To access the relevant spread sheet enter alcohol in the find indicator field and link your way through.


debi said…

Such an excellent post!

"In California the legal drinking age is 21 and that is too high. Prohibition encourages secrecy and results in binge drinking."
Too true - in my opinion, drugs also should not be prohibited.

In America, we have an ever-growing tendency to over-legislate, over-prohibit on everything. It causes the most honest of us to commit criminal acts.

I firmly believe that the family should be the teacher and promoter of appropriate behavior, not the US government.

Thanks as always. I agree. If drugs were legal there'd be less drug related crime and violence, many lives saved. Then again - is it really that easy? What would the drug lords and their followers turn to? Can we really assume they'd pursue regular jobs? (In other words, what would your story be about?)

P.S.: Debi's story, Quiet Lost, can be found on her blog It is a work in progress, cliffhangers included.
Lorraine Seal said…
Hi Christina

I was shocked to realise I had forgotten how high the legal drinking age is in California. And I agree it is too high.

I was raised in a religion that proscribes alcohol (hint: I was born in Salt Lake City); when I broke free of that church and began drinking at age 25, it took me years to find the equilibrium to drink sensibly. As in so many things, prohibition pushes underground rather than addresses the issues behind problematic behaviour.

We were told before moving to Austria that excess consumption is frowned on and that people here would never consider drinking and driving. I don’t know if the latter is true but we were amazed – stunned really – to discover the stub’n serving beer in filling stations. It seems every time we fill up, we pass a room full of men with litres of beer in front of them, any time of the day. How they leave the filling stations, we’re not sure.

Odd that having been born in Utah, where the majority of the legislature would impose prohibition if the business community – dependent on tourism – would agreed, that I have landed first in Ireland and then in Austria, both places where alcohol consumption is high.

Thanks for posting!
debi said…

I chuckled when I read your comment. But... you bring up a legitimate point - they are NOT going to go straight!

I think the drug lords would move to human trafficking - a black market form of slavery and prostitution (which they probably already do to some degree).

So, having said that, the story-idea cogs in my noggin are crankin'.


Always love your comments because you share your experience from three countries. Thanks.

I wish I could say that Austrians would not drink and drive but it is not true. They do. Punishment is not as steep as in CA where a first offense of driving under the influence will result in a four-month suspension of the driver's license and a second or subsequent offense within ten years will result in a one-year suspension. In Austria it is one month for first time offenders and three months for repeats.

To my surprise I found that the number of fatalities from DUI accidents is much higher in CA than in Austria. According to an article published by PR Newswire last September California recorded 1,025 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in 2008 (950 in 2009). Statistics published by the Austrian government show 53 DUI related driving deaths for Austria in 2008.

Compare these numbers to population figures: Austria has 8.3 million inhabitants, California about 4.5 times as many (37 million); the ratio for DUI fatalities is almost one to twenty. The disparity suggests that there must be a difference in how the numbers are recorded but it is still mind-boggling.

Debi -

Great! Count me in as a reader!

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