Legal Drinking Ages by Country
In the U.S., turning 21 is a momentous occasion. While young people can enlist in the military at 18, they have to wait until 21 to legally share a beer. Every country chooses their own drinking age, however.
There's no clear consensus on how grown up is grown up enough, and every culture has unique drinking traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. Let's take a look at some of the most intriguing customs from around the world, plus different perspectives about age.
These are the legal drinking ages by country.
Legal Drinking Age in Japan: 20
In Japan, the drinking age is 20. That's not especially unique, but what is unique is their method of drinking red wine. "Wine on the Rocks" has become a popular trend in Japan, with Denny's restaurants in Japan offering both red and white wine over ice.
While serious wine connoisseurs will turn their noses up at the notion, we're all for drinking wine however you like it best. In hot weather, wine on the rocks doesn't sound half bad.
Legal Drinking Age in Iceland: 20
Iceland shares Japan's drinking age of 20, but they're more rigid about how alcohol is sold. It's not available in grocery stores or supermarkets at all. If you want to enjoy a beer at home, you'll have to go to a government-owned shop called a vinbudin. There aren't many around, so people either have to plan ahead or head to a restaurant or bar instead.
Speaking of bars, nights out tend to run very, very late in Iceland. They often don't begin until midnight!
Legal Drinking Age in Thailand: 20
Another country with a legal drinking age of 20, Thailand has a certain drinking etiquette to follow. Finishing your drink is considered rude. Instead, leave it half-full at all times.
Drinking becomes a lengthy social event in which no one finishes their glass until the oldest person at the table heads home. What happens if you don't know everyone's age? We have questions.
Legal Drinking Age in Canada: 19
The drinking age in Canada is a little younger, but we wouldn't be too eager to pour a glass in certain parts of our neighboring country. In Dawson City, Yukon, visitors practically have to take part in a gruesome rite of passage: Drinking the Sourtoe Cocktail. The cocktail combines a shot of whiskey and an alcohol-preserved severed toe.
Yes, a human toe. If you succeed in drinking it without throwing up, you'll be welcomed into a secret society, complete with an exclusive club and next-level pizza.
Legal Drinking Age in Russia: 18
In Russia, it's considered poor form to leave an empty glass on the table. Instead, when you finish a drink, you should put it on the floor under the table.
Considering Russians consume more alcohol than practically any other nation, watch your step when you get up. In Russia, drinking spirits rather than wine or beer is also more common.
Legal Drinking Age in the U.K.: 18
The U.K. knows how it's done. When merrymakers go out on the town in London, they always grab takeout on the way home. We're not sure if that will actually prevent a hangover, but fries just hit different at 1 a.m.
They have other similar habits as we do in the U.S., like bringing alcohol with you to parties. It's also polite to buy a round of drinks for your group of friends before heading home.
Legal Drinking Age in Czechia: 18
In Czechia (often still referred to as the Czech Republic), say "Nazdravi" to wish people good health before taking a sip. It's also good practice to make eye contact during toasts and to put a coaster over your glass when you're done drinking and don't want anyone to top it off.
One thing to avoid is crossing your arms with anyone else's while you're drinking. For some reason, that's considered bad luck.
Legal Drinking Age in Tanzania: 18
Young adults in Tanzania's Masaai tribe have a rather gory drink of choice. Masaai warriors often drink honey mead, which sounds pretty ordinary, until you find out what they blend with it: blood.
They cut a live cow with an arrow and mix its blood into the wine, before patching up the cow and taking a sip. We'll just sit this one out, thanks.
Legal Drinking Age in Italy: 18
In Sicily, they have an amusing drinking tradition: the autista. Autista means driver, as in designated driver. The beverage has a long list of ingredients, but baking soda is the most important one.
The goal is to drink the volcanic-looking beverage before it bubbles over. The foam inspires an explosive burp, and the baking soda settles the acid in your stomach. Supposedly, it helps you sober up — not so you can drive home, but so you can drink more.
In Sicily, sharing a toast is a big deal. Sicilians are suspicious of outsiders, so sharing a drink with guests is considered a sign of trust and acceptance.
Legal Drinking Age in France: 18
While many French families allow younger teens to sample a small glass of wine at home, the legal drinking age is 18. In France, filling wine glasses all the way up is tacky.
Drinking before everyone else's glasses have been filled is also a faux pas. Be patient! While you're sipping away, do it slowly, savoring the experience.
Legal Drinking Age in Greece: 18
Crete is Greece's largest island. Here, partygoers love playing a Greek drinking game called koupa. To play, you call someone's name at the table, and they have to drink every drop, kiss the bottom of the glass for good luck and call on another guest.
It's also common to break the dishes after playing. Sounds expensive but fun.
Legal Drinking Age in Spain: 18
Celebrating your 18th birthday in Spain is extra fun if it falls in the month of June. Every year on June 29, a Spanish town called Haro hosts a wine war.
It's technically a wine festival featuring wine from dozens of renowned wine producers from the region, but wine-filled water guns are involved.
Legal Drinking Age in Sweden: 18
In Sweden, there's one rule you should always follow while sharing a beer with friends: Don't break eye contact. Sweden is a Nordic country with roots in Viking culture, so holding eye contact helped to avoid sudden ambushes by your dinner guests.
Today, however, it's just a sign of mutual respect.
Legal Drinking Age in Germany: 16
Germany might be the most alcohol-positive country we've come across but in a healthier way than Russia. Drinking in public is legal. Having a beer isn't associated with rowdy behavior, so moderate drinking is no big deal.
It's common to have a drink with lunch. Families also gather in pubs on Sunday mornings after church and share drinks in a tradition called Frühschoppen. With a young drinking age of 16, such open drinking practices may seem risky to outsiders, but people typically only share a drink or two. A beer with brunch is nothing like a wild college party at all.
Legal Drinking Age in Georgia: 16
If you're not a fan of toasts, don't go to Georgia. Here, drinking is accompanied by a Tamada, or toastmaster, who leads dinner guests through toast after toast. Sometimes, there are more than a dozen toasts, to anything and anyone the toastmaster thinks deserves appreciation.
It can drag on for a while, but the speeches can become personal and touching. It's a nice way to bond and turns the experience into a moving, social one rather than a wild night.
Interesting Drinking Age Stats
Only Eritrea, a small country in East Africa, has a drinking age of 25. On the opposite end of the spectrum, only two countries, Central African Republic and Mali, allow 15-year-olds to buy a beer. While they have the lowest legal drinking age, it doesn't appear to result in higher levels of alcohol dependence. Less than 2 percent of the population of both countries deal with alcohol dependence issues — much lower than the sobering 7.7 percent reported in the U.S.
An overwhelming majority of countries selected 18 as the minimum drinking age, followed closely by 21. Interestingly, the legal drinking age doesn't strongly correlate with the prevalence of unhealthy drinking habits. Drinking under the age of 15 appears to elevate the risk of developing alcohol dependence issues later on, the rates of alcoholism in each country are all over the map. It's not that age doesn't matter at all, but other factors are more influential.
A Positive Drinking Culture Encourages Drinking Responsibly
In all cultures, drinking is a social activity. Cultural attitudes toward alcohol, however, can influence whether one's drinking habits are healthy or if they cross a line. Cultures in which drinking is tied to fun and irresponsibility, like that of the U.S., view alcohol as counterintuitive to working. Alcohol is used as a transition from work to play, and these habits are more likely to lead to alcohol-related issues.
Societies that view alcohol as a normal part of daily life, even sharing a drink over a mid-workday meal, usually have lower rates of alcohol dependence. In other words, cultures that take a positive, accepting view of alcohol consumption imbibe in moderation more often than cultures that associate alcohol with irresponsible, or even illegal, behavior.
The takeaway: Whether you live in a country where the drinking age is 16 or 21, a healthy attitude is the most important factor to share with teens and young adults. We'll drink to that!
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