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Alcool versus Alcohol

August 13, 2006
Spring 2003 may not be the time to laud anything French. However, it may well be the perfect time to illustrate basic fundamental differences between the American vs. the French attitude a la Alcool.

Our posturing politicians’ positions belie the unalterable fact the country was founded in taverns and that public policy continues to be made in social settings, albeit not the 3-martini lobbyists’ lunches of a few decades back.

A sojourn of Paris’ splendid cafe society spotlights French for and American disrespect for alcohol.  Enjoyable hours imbibing in historic, treasured brasseries and never was an intoxicated patron observed.  What was observed were cheerful friends and families dining and sipping red wine. In America, the parents, the restaurateur and the server would be criminals.  Aren’t our jails full?  European laissez-faire attitudes of responsible hospitality and responsible consumption contrast greatly with our Puritanical penchant for turning any pleasurable activity into the forbidden and therefore the desired and perversely, the abused.

Anecdotes of American alcohol absurdities: 

  • In a New York Times article on the college binge drinking dilemma author Jack Hitt raises a dire question and provides a logical answer: “Why do college students drink so stupidly?  Because drinking intelligently is against the law.”  The Justice Department funds expensive sting operations insured to ensnare even the most vigilant of responsible licensees while crime and murder plague our cities.
  • Le Guide de Routard warns French visitors to the U.S.: “Alcohol is still taboo in American society, very Puritan and conservative, allows the free sale of arms but has outrageous regulations for anything related to taboo pleasures.”  The Virginia House of Representatives is determined to preserve our right to carry guns in bars and Virginia police recently began enforcing long-dormant, archaic laws against public intoxication, i.e. speaking too loudly is grounds for suspicion and possible arrest.  Beware, the only place to drink is in the privacy of your or your friend’s home. The end of socialization portends the end of civilization.
  • In another Jack Hitt article in the New York Times, the French medical anthropologist, Clotaire Papaille stated: “ Freedom exists on an axis…and in America the other side of freedom is prohibition.  They are in tension all the time. Prohibitions of Alcohol…compare that to the French where they have freedom but no prohibition.  Among the major changes Euro-Disney made to stem their disastrous losses were special areas for smoking, dogs and drinking.  Now the place operates at a profit.”  And soon smoking will be prohibited in New York City.  Did we not learn anything from Prohibition other than the fact that bootlegger’s made a lot of money and a mass immigration of our best and brightest creative artists fled to Paris’s Left bank?
  • A citizen activist’s incredulously asking, with a straight face: “Can you imagine at some restaurants at certain times the table are pushed together and the customers start dancing?”  Someone somehow sometime must explain the imagined horror of this depravity!  But then as noted in a recent issue of this magazine, our British, Puritan cousins, so aligned with us on the pending war, fined a tavern owner over $7000 for the table-clustering, space-clearing, non-hazardous crime of facilitating bodies-swaying to the music.
  • The Federal battle for continued lowering of the BAC punishes the non-problematic social drinker while not decreasing the numbers or the severity of alcohol related auto crashes, GAO 1999 report.  Take the weapons (vehicles) away from the repeat and high BAC level offenders and fund alternative modes of transportation.
  • Disneyland and Disneyworld have emulated New Orleans’ French Quarter by simulating downtown, walking environments for adults with go cups! In all other parts of the country, alcohol is strictly forbidden on the street, in parks or on beaches.  No wandering down to the riverside in most towns with a bottle of wine, unlike the French on the banks of the Seine.
  • In many parts of Europe, outdoor patios are granted tax benefits; in America patios are viewed as threatening to society.  In America, licensed beverage establishments are perceived as places that increase crime, whereas, we generally decrease crime by increasing street activity and by being the eyes and ears of the community, particularly in the evening.
  • When questioned about the number of DC establishments that are problematic, the authorities answered that barely 10% caused any problems. Yet increased regulations for all, not increased enforcement for the few are the result.

The American hospitality industry deserves responsible regulations and respect for our contributions to American society.  Our country’s assumption and resulting actions that all alcohol is evil and that all dispensers of alcohol are irresponsible is erroneous.  Giving our legislators the benefit of the doubt and understanding the pressure placed on them by a select group of cranks, we concur with Oscar Wilde who stated: “It is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done.”

So the French are cool on their Alcool attitudes.  American politicians need to address the good that restaurants and beverage licensees do for the socialization of our citizens, not to mention our economic contributions to our city, county, state and federal coffers. 

Lynne Breaux, Executive Director RAMW