Scotland Studies with Shannon: Thirsty Weekdays

I feel silly for admitting this, but one of my biggest fears about studying abroad in Glasgow was the booze.

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

It’s safe to say that my experience with alcohol so far as an under-the-legal-drinking-age American had been fairly scant.

I was told left and right that just about every social event revolved around alcohol in Europe, and the thought of that was enough to make me feel like the new kid in fourth grade again.

During my UCEAP orientation, our coordinators made sure to emphasize self-control and sensibility when alcohol was involved.

“You don’t need to buy an alcoholic drink if you don’t want to! Contrary to what you may think, you will not be judged!”

It’s been a little less than a month since I’ve arrived in Glasgow, and there’s no denying the omnipresence of booze — I could easily count at least ten pubs and bars from the doorstep of the dorm I’m living in.

To my astonishment, each of these establishments has a sizable amount of patrons each evening.

And I’m not talking about hardened, husk-of-a-soul, could-probably-drink-rat-poison-and-not-bat-an-eye elderly Scottish men —no, these are cool, hip young’ns like you and me!

To Glaswegians and the rest of Europe, a drink is as casual as a green juice or a venti latte.

When one of my seminars was cut an hour short due to union strikes, my instructor offered to make up the time “over a beer.”

I’m tempted to take him up on that offer just to be able to say that I’ve attended office hours at a bar.

The biggest difference is definitely the attitude toward consumption.

“You can almost always tell who’s an American in a pub. They’re loud and excited and try to drink as much as they can as quickly as they can,” the Italian professor in the alcohol awareness video I watched during my orientation said. “Drinking for us really means two or three beers over a span of four hours.”

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Apparently, our binge-craze attitude is just as perplexing to Glaswegians. Since my arrival, I’ve been asked about keg stands and red solo cups more times than I would’ve ever thought.

“Are the parties back in America really just like the ones from ‘Old School’ or ‘Superbad’?”

The normalization and casual attitude toward alcohol definitely stems from early introduction and the lower legal drinking age, 18.

A few nights back, I was having a nice conversation with my British neighbor in our shared kitchen.

After about two hours, he got up to wash his dishes, and only then did I notice how much he had to drink in our span of conversation.

“How many beers does it take for you to get drunk?” I asked, eyeing the three empty bottles with admiration.

“Oh, I don’t get drunk,” he responded.

“Well, how often do you drink?” I asked.

“Every day.”

“When did you start drinking?”

“My dad started giving me beer at … 10 I think?”

“How old are you right now?”


“Holy shit.”

I turned 21 on Jan 27, and like any other American, decided to go out drinking with a few pals.

The bartender and his friend congratulated me for being legal to drink in Europe for three years now, and proceeded to invite me and my friends to a different bar to continue the festivities after he closed for the night.

I accepted and we all made our way to another bar a little ways down the same street, and he asked us what we wanted.

“I think I’m going to pause for a bit, I’ve had enough for now,” I said when he got to me.

He looked at me, and then walked off without a word to grab the drinks.

Buzzed and overwhelmed, I felt stupid and embarrassed. I could only imagine how much of an inexperienced American I looked like to a Scottish bartender.

When he came back, he started distributing the glasses to their rightful owners, and to my surprise, placed a bottle of a carbonated, nonalcoholic lemon drink in front of me.

“Don’t ever drink more than you want to — take it easy. Happy birthday,” he said, clinking glasses with me.

Cheers to that.