Alcohol: it makes the world go round. Or brings it to a standstill, depending on whom you ask.
Accordingly, many countries have prohibited alcohol in an effort to curb corrosive societal tendencies (the U.S. included), whether that blame was assigned rightly or wrongly.
So what does this have to with you, the intrepid traveler sitting on a veranda on the Amalfi Coast awaiting your noonday Negroni? Well, not only do more than a few countries still have alcohol prohibitions in place, but even places overwhelmingly considered “wet” often have obscure laws that delimit the sale and consumption of alcohol. For example: despite its globally infamous drinking culture, as well as recent legislative changes on the issue, pubs in England traditionally close at 11 p.m.
So if you’re traveling abroad this summer, here’s what you need to know before you raise a glass and say “Cheers” (or sláinte/salud/kampai/etc.) in five regions with tricky drinking laws and customs.
You might not realize it, but Budweiser is not the King of Beers — China’s Snow Beer is. The Chinese were among the earliest cultures to produce alcohol, and as you might expect from a civilization that produced Li Bai, the peripatetic drunken poet, the Chinese know their way around a keg. Drinking games (known as jiuling) feature heavily in China, but so does a strict sense of etiquette. Beyond this, drinking serves a rather distinct social purpose in China, whether as a test of masculinity or as a way to seal business deals. Imagine your livelihood hinging upon the ability to chug a handle of plum liquor at your next board meeting. Woof.
We are a sodden bunch, though not as much as some. Considering how much bad behavior we blame on alcohol but how handily Estonia beats us at per capita beer consumption, we might need to start re-evaluating just what our problem is. Still, there’s nothing quite like getting a drink in the good old U.S. of A. From our incomparable microbrew scene to a coast-to-coast wine-making culture, no other country can compare for sheer variety and breadth of libations. Also, in some places in the U.S. (here’s looking at you, Wisconsin) it can be easier to get a drink than to buy groceries — so we’ve definitely got ease-of-access going for us.
Yes, all the rumors are true. You can legally buy beer, wine and up to 80-proof spirits at 16. You can order a beer at McDonalds. And though it’s often frowned upon, you can drink basically anywhere in public — whether it be a lush city park, a crowded train or a church parking lot. Seen objectively, this really sounds like a recipe for disaster. And yet Germany keeps it together rather nicely (a zero-tolerance policy towards alcohol-related infractions definitely helps). It’s not all just about the beer, either: Germany has a great wine culture that, while not as storied as that of neighboring France, is still worth checking out.
The Middle East
As you may know, the Qur’an forbids the consumption of alcohol, which amounts to a de facto prohibition in many Middle East nations. And as you can further imagine, it can get really complicated if you happen to visit, as laws vary from country to country. From great bar scenes in Lebanon and Israel (Tel Aviv is one hell of a place to go out) to the completely dry nations of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, there’s hardly any consensus on how to approach alcohol consumption. Qatar and the U.A.E., for example, make concessions to non-Muslim foreign nationals, although alcohol can only be purchased at certain locales, and for exorbitant prices (think $16 shots of Jameson).
Says one InsideHook editor who goes Down Under a couple of weeks per year: “Good beer. Great wine. But Sydney is a bitch to drink in late. Melbourne, on the other hand, is very laid back. But because of restrictive laws and intolerance for drunk driving — bars are culpable if you have too much to imbibe — the cocktails are both ridiculously expensive and pack zero punch.”