Nothing to do but Drink
The club's patrons and I sway to the music: a great combination of European and American dance songs that a live DJ pumps through the speakers. But not everyone is dancing; the majority of my classmates are just standing there, sipping their beers self-consciously. For most of them, this is their fourth alcoholic beverage this evening, if their first here. More people flood into Campus, the bar-club in Verona to which Marco, our friendly hotel clerk brought us. Our group, 25 students strong, is pushed closer and closer to the hapless DJ. Everyone, excluding myself and another girl, gets second and third rounds of drinks and soon joins in the dancing, which to any intoxicated American means 'grind against anything with legs.' That's alright though. At least we aren't being obviously stupid and ignorant Americans, I think to myself. Wrong. Two students take an inordinate interest in the DJ's actions. One keeps trying to use the DJ's microphone, which the DJ has wisely switched off. The second is far more disruptive. He reaches in and starts tweaking the knobs on the DJ's equipment. Then, while the DJ's back is turned, he presses a few buttons. The speakers start generating feedback. The DJ pushes the drunken student aside, angrily fixing his changes, and then calls for Marco to take the student away. A third student decides that she NEEDS to have her picture taken with the DJ. She drapes herself on him and flashes peace signs while the poor man is simply trying to work. The quality of music decreases; the songs become the stale, over-played pop hits from five years ago. Not to be deterred by Marco's stern scolding, the second student of the three returns. Now, not only does he push buttons and turn knobs, but he also scratches the records, gets in the poor DJ's way and ultimately knocks over every single one of the DJ's CDs. I am shocked and appalled and terrified that we might be forced to leave.
Never before have I been so thoroughly embarrassed to be an American. I've traveled in Europe quite a bit, and have come to understand that Europeans generally view Americans as uncouth, ill-behaved, loud, drunken swine. Every time I go abroad, I do everything in my power to counteract these stereotypes. I learn the basics of my host country's language, I am respectful and I never allow myself to lose control. Most of my classmates apparently feel differently. However, I blame the offending parties not for their actions, but for their lack of self-control with alcohol. Would the disruptive students be rude enough to interfere with a working professional while they were sober? I'm inclined to say no. These are generally good kids, but alcohol takes good kids and removes their sense of propriety and decency. The events described above took place on our second-to-last night on our JanPlan in Verona, but from the stories I've heard, these nights of debauchery were not uncommon. On weekends, we would travel around Italy, perhaps spending the night in Florence or Rome. My travel plans unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) did not intersect with the rest of the class, but tales of blackouts and Sex in the Duomo (a drink similar to Sex on the Beach) have conveyed the message.
Students were not merely getting drunk because they legally could in Italy (the illegality does not stop them in Maine). They were not getting drunk because there was nothing else to do, a common excuse for drinking at Colby. They were not getting drunk because we only had two more nights left in Verona (they had been getting drunk every weekend since we arrived). Reasons to get entirely plastered simply vanished in Italy, and yet, a desire to get drunk remained. As a chem-free student who leads an alcohol and drug-free lifestyle, I am not able to understand why a student would choose to give up their self-control, their self-respect and their sense of decency and propriety. To have fun? How is it fun if you can't remember what you did the night before? How is it fun to turn into someone else who smears bathroom walls with excrement? Who knocks over all of a DJ's CDs in a club?
Not everyone on the Verona JanPlan got drunk every weekend. Not everyone who got drunk behaved inappropriately. There are even a few of us who never got drunk at all. However, the bad behavior of the few paints the rest in a poor light. I am embarrassed that the Italians who had never before met Americans will forever cherish the memory of our drunken slobbery and destruction and associate it with everyone who has ever been born in, lived in or died in America.