I don’t know if they are irritated because it has an English name, but the French have decided to stamp out le binge drinking. Under proposed new laws which were published in a draft bill recently, there will be stiff penalties for those who incite excessive consumption of alcohol.
Anyone convicted will face a fine of up to 15,000 euros and up to a year in prison. The definition of ‘ beuverie express’ (fast drinking) is the “massive intake of alcohol,
generally in a group, aimed at
causing drunkenness in the least possible time”.
It is quantified as the consumption
of more than four or five units in less than two hours. That’s about a couple of pints. In theory, and I don’t suggest you try this, I reckon you could be found guilty of ‘beuverie express’ and still pass the breathalyser test. So how will this go down in France with those who like a bottle of wine or two with their meal? It won’t affect them. They law is aimed at young people. In the fine tradition of social reform, it seems to be case of knowing what is good for them, but believing we are sensible enough to decide for ourselves. Check out the history of gambling, alcohol and voting for examples of where the lower classes or the young are treated differently to those in charge.
It is easy to make fun of the situation, as many have done on the comments to the articles which appeared in the papers (Binge drinking? That’s breakfast!), but there is a problem which needs addressing.
In France there is a tradition of “bizutages”, or initiation ceremonies often carried out at universities and higher education establishments, which often involve encouraging new students to get roaringly drunk and it seems that these are becoming increasingly common over here.
A quick search will lead you to a bunch of stories which describe student initiation ceremonies involving drinking massive amounts of alcohol, often mixed with unwholesome additives and accompanied by bullying and intimidation. In some cases it seems to go hand in hand unpleasant sexist behaviour such as that which has led to the rugby team at the London School of Economics being disbanded.
There seems little doubt that times have changed. In my university days we had pub crawls and sometimes too much to drink, but that was not the aim of the evening. I think the damage we caused was minimal, and I even remember one of our party who had pocketed a nice Darley’s ashtray (remember when you could smoke in pubs), being persuaded to take it back. Mind you, we did not have a Bullingdon Club in Hull.
These days it seems the prevailing mood is summed up by a couple of female students from Birmingham on pub crawl organised by a commercial company who were quoted in the Mirror “We’re just here to get as absolutely hammered as we can.”
So, whilst it is good fun to have a laugh at a silly law the French are thinking of bringing in, it is as well to reflect on the motivation behind it and the problems that need solving. Sure, it seems to be unworkable and if enforced properly it might mean that many thousands would end up in prison, but is the alternative to stand by and do nothing?
Many more youngsters head off to university these days and can easily fall in with those who do not have their best interests at heart, and maybe some attempt to control those who ply them with ridiculous amounts of alcohol is no bad thing.