Nothing to do but Drink!
I realize that the subject has already been twice addressed in these pages, but I have a third, more favorable view to offer on drinking abroad. While I was not on the exact same trip as the previous authors--I went to Greece, which I imagine is probably about the same as Italy--I believe my input could clear some things up. Now in the United States, the drinking age is far higher than it is in most European countries--I am fairly sure it is 19, or maybe 25. Thus, I would not dream of imbibing stateside. But it also means that the law is the only thing keeping me from lunging for that bottle, can or puddle on the ground that smells vaguely of alcohol. I would soon find that my tripmates shared my sentiment.
It would be unethical and impolite for me to make a sweeping statement about all of the trip members' alcohol habits, but I am going to do so anyway: from the moment we stepped out of the Athens airport to the moment we stumbled into its supporting columns two weeks later, we had alcohol in our systems. There were certainly other activities: we had class, we had to sleep, we had to eat. But no one questioned what we were there to do. As American college students in a foreign country, we had no choice but to drink. And drink we did. Never before had I been so thoroughly proud to be an American. We showed those mighty Greeks what it meant to be from the Land of Liberty.
Students were not merely getting drunk because they legally could in Greece. They drank because consuming alcohol is awesome and automatically makes you more popular. Nobody from home wants to hear how many Acropolises and Parfenons you visited. They want to hear how close you got to making your heart stop from alcohol consumption. It is the duty of the college-age American to impress foreign citizens with his ability to drink beer and liquor in fantastic quantities, as well as his ability to recite maybe half the lyrics to Lady GaGa's "Bad Romance" at over 100 decibels.
There are certainly those who would disagree with me. There are those who would say that we should try to "blend in" with the culture. That we should respect native customs, and even try to learn the language. These people are, with all due respect, wrong. Blend in with the culture? Simply insulting. The Greeks don't want some American strolling down their streets acting like a native. It's damned dishonest. Americans should be aloof and obnoxious. In return, the Greeks should pick our pockets, overcharge us and laugh at our fanny-packs. Disrespect is a two way street. Why should we learn the language when we can simply speak in our own language at a much louder volume? We must drop all pretenses. We are Americans who cannot legally imbibe in our own country, and we do what is expected.
Not everyone on the Greece JanPlan got drunk every weekend. In fact, most of us drank during the week too. I am confident that our drunken behavior was not shocking to the people we met in the bars of Athens. And I am fairly sure that they did not associate our behavior with every person who ever lived and died in America. But if they do, I'm not too offended, because I still see a city full of pederasts every time I walk through Athens.