Sunday, October 02, 2005

McDrunk, McDangerous and McProud of It

Recently the big news here was that a United Nations report named Scotland the most violent country in the developed world, with England and Wales ranking in second place for their high number of assaults per capita. (Curiously, Ireland didn't fall anywhere of note in the study.) The extreme rise in the number of attacks, which have apparently doubled over the past 20 years, is unsurprisingly attributed to England's heavy-drinking culture, picturesquely christened by one newspaper as its "booze and blades" mentality.

A high-ranking commander with the Metropolitan police said "drunkenness is all we are ever dealing with", and he wasn't exaggerating just to get a bigger budget, as anyone who has ever spent any amount of time living here can attest. There's even a documentary-style TV show airing nightly called "Booze Britain", which follows around barely vertical, slurring revelers as they hit the pubs and clubs for a night of hard drinking. Invariably, booze-fuelled anti-social behaviour results and we see the travails of the security staff, police squads, paramedics and hospital staff who are left picking up the pieces.

Now admittedly, the gritty and illiterate American underbelly portrayed on shows like "COPS" and "Jerry Springer" doesn't exactly put our best foot forward either, as the British (who bizarrely adore these American imports) love to point out, but at least they reflect only a marginal subset of our society, unlike "Booze Britain", which captures everyone from sports stars to seemingly sophisticated Sex and the City-types getting falling down drunk as though it were a glamorous national pasttime.

Case in point was England's recent victory in their annual, highly contentious cricket match against Australia, the "Ashes" tournament. Not only did the Evening Standard offer readers a free pint of beer to celebrate this rarest of victories, but they had a huge two page spread exclusively dedicated to proudly documenting--moment by moment and drink by drink--the 17-hour alcohol binge of cricket star Freddie Flintoff during what they termed his "heroic all-night session". I don't know about you, but I think it says a lot about a country when heroism is defined by drinking copious amounts of alcohol and remaining upright.

The article went on to effusively gush: "During the marathon session, Freddie drank the rest of his teammates under the table. He started his celebrations with champagne, moved on to beer and knocked back both drinks for much of the night before switching to gin and tonic, then vodka and cranberry at 7am. With his teammeates sleeping off the night's excesses, the all-rounder continued to line up the drinks to celebrate Englands' stunning victory." With role models like this, what parent needs to worry about bad influences?

From a personal standpoint, not a week goes by that my gag reflex doesn't kick into high gear when I have to give wide berth to someone getting sick from drink on the subway or a street corner. Full-scale anxiety sets in whenever I have to be on public transport or go beyond a three-block radius of our house past 10:00PM, in anticipatory fear of the moment when I'll witness my next stomach-churning enounter. Like harbingers of doom, beer cans litter the subway cars and streets because it's perfectly natural to have a beer in hand, even when travelling solo, whenever you're in between ports of call. I mean, why wait twenty minutes to get to the next pub when you can keep alcohol coursing through your veins without needless interruption?

Besides having to be on permanent puke-patrol, the unfortunate byproduct of this alcohol-saturated culture and legalized drinking in all manner of public places is the frequent and frightening eruptions of violence over the most innocuous of incidents. For instance last month, a man was stabbed to death on a London bus for having the gall to ask someone to stop throwing french fries at his girlfriend. It turns out that only in England can stoicism actually save lives.

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