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Alcohol culture in the UK

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 14, 2011 01:33 PM

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Social anthropologist Kate Fox has a provocative piece at the BBC about alcohol culture and education in the UK. Dr. Fox contends that the cultural messages around alcohol -- notably, that drunk people become irresponsible lewd loutish lads and laddesses -- are the cause of much problematic behavior. She makes an analogy: 

If I were given total power, I could very easily engineer a nation in which coffee would become a huge social problem - a nation in which young people would binge-drink coffee every Friday and Saturday night and then rampage around town centres being anti-social, getting into fights and having unprotected sex in random one-night stands. 

I would restrict access to coffee, thus immediately giving it highly desirable forbidden-fruit status. Then I would issue lots of dire warnings about the dangerously disinhibiting effects of coffee. I would make sure everyone knew that even a mere three cups (six "units") of coffee "can lead to anti-social, aggressive and violent behaviour", and sexual promiscuity, thus instantly giving young people a powerful motive to binge-drink double espressos, and a perfect excuse to behave very badly after doing so.

I'm not a total social constructionist. There are real effects of alcohol on the brain. But people can get drunk on placebos, and according to Dr. Fox Brits get more loudly and aggressively drunk on placebos than other folks. Culture plays a role. 

What were you taught about alcohol in your family of origin, or ethnic group? My parents belonged to a church in which a lot of people didn't drink at all, but they liked a beer with pizza or a glass of wine while playing Scrabble in the evening. I'd say I was definitely raised to believe that moderation was better than abstention, which was better than overdoing it. Also, I learned to keep topping up my mother's wine glass every time she looked away, because that was the only way I'd ever have a chance to beat her in Scrabble. 
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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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