The French have a saying that, loosely translated, goes, "The naive and ineffectual rube from Aix-en-Provence who does not learn to swim as a child will inevitably grow into adulthood and dress garishly as is wont among such impish flaneurs; he will have little appreciation for light in paintings, and an unhealthy fixation with fish." It rolls off the tongue a little better in French, and it is the very reason that on a French child's third birthday, he is taken to the nearest lake and hurled by catapult into the center. Many a French toddler has drowned in this way, and many, many a country dolt enjoyed a laugh watching — but it is also the reason the French grow to be so strong, evidenced by the fortitude of their army. Can you imagine how awful its army would be if all they did was sit around eating fish?
The same sink-or-swim lesson works for alcohol. In my vast and storied experience with the strange and alluring elixir, I have noticed that those who began dabbling with drinking at a younger age tend to develop a more balanced approach toward its consumption in later years.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, hear me out. I'm not saying we should give wine coolers to every little Olympic gymnast who wants one and then let them flip around all shit-canned on the uneven bars (although I don't think there's a sports fan alive who wouldn't enjoy it). I'm saying there's some merit to a movement known as the Amethyst Initiative, currently making its way around the college circuit.
legal drinking age
Started by a former president of Middlebury College, the initiative already has presidents from about a hundred top universities calling on lawmakers around the country to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. I know what you're thinking: Adam's just trying to support a lower drinking age so he can go out to bars and get into an eighteen-year-old's pants. To that I say a) fuck you, and b) you don't need a lower drinking age to get into an eighteen-year-old's pants. You need Facebook.
Some behind the initiative feel that if you're old enough to vote and die for your country, perhaps you should be allowed to have a drink. Others feel that the current environment — where it's almost cooler because it's something you're not allowed to do — fosters a culture of binge drinking. This is a notion I can sympathize with, because I experienced it firsthand.
In high school, at least the later years of it, here's how a typical Friday or Saturday night went.
MOM: So let me get this straight: You're going to see The Pallbearer, starring David Schwimmer, again?
ME: Yeah, why not? You know I like my leading men inept and mopey.
MOM: All right — be home by midnight.
Cut to someone picking me up, cut to shoulder-tapping in a parking lot or calling a friend with a fake ID, cut to drinking in a park, cut to striking out repeatedly with women, cut to sneaking into home.
MOM: How was The Pallbearer?
Later, when I went to college, I certainly drank my share — but I saw other kids go off the fucking deep end on booze. All of a sudden, they were freed from the constraints of their carefully policed worlds. For some, it took a trip to the hospital or suspension to even start to figure it out.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Mesa State College, Colorado College and Naropa University have all signed on to the Amethyst Institute proposal, but the University of Colorado has declined. "President Benson understands that this is an important national issue, but we have some other things occupying our attention right now, and he didn't want to sign on at this point," University Relations vice president Ken McConnellogue told me.
Fair enough, CU, we all know that underage drinking at your school is an issue that can wait. No biggie.
I've been lucky enough to spend a fair amount of time in Europe, where a grandpa giving a boy a few sips of wine every now and again isn't necessarily discouraged, and I can honestly say that they don't binge like we do. And if they occasionally do, they feel more repentant, like what they did the other night was truly boorish. In a culture where booze is not necessarily bad or illicit, the thought is that abusing booze like that is something only a real derelict does — as opposed to, well, everyone. Do I have numbers or science to support my theory? Not at all. That would require research, and I can't keep an intern around here long enough to get 'em drunk on the uneven bars, let alone get 'em to do some research. But if you want proof, look no further than the French Army. Those brave men know how to handle a drink or two and keep surrend — er, fighting.
And they never lose their shit around fish.