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Growing Pains: Lessons on drinking responsibly

Elizabeth Kukla

Elizabeth Kukla

One thing that has struck me since moving away from home is the attitude toward young people consuming alcohol, held throughout the vast majority of the United States.

Growing up in New Orleans, I was taught how to make my dad’s dirty dry martinis by age 7 (among other less exciting things, like pancakes). But really. Ever since middle school, I have been the house bar tender: Dry Old Fashions, Brandy Manhattans, Sazeracs … if you could name it, I could make it.

As I grew older, my parents would always offer me wine with dinner, drinks for parties or special occasions. I never had to hide alcohol consumption from them. If I wanted it, I could just ask.

Muses in eighth grade: My mom sat me down before my friends arrived to walk to the parade route. She told me something important. She told me that no matter what time, no matter how much I’d had to drink, I could call her. I should call her. She would come get me, and if she couldn’t, she would reimburse me for my cab, no punishment, no questions asked, any time, every time.

When I relay this eighth-grade experience to my peers at college, the vast majority of reactions are astonishment, disbelief, or a burst of, “She didn’t care you were drinking?!”

On the contrary, she cared very much. She cared about my safety, making good choices, drinking responsibly. She cared enough to get out of bed that night, get dressed, and come get me at 3 a.m. from a bar on St. Charles. The friends I was with wanted to drive home; we’d been drinking on and off since the school day ended. She picked me up, I was not in trouble, no prying questions were asked, it was water under the bridge.

This is the quintessential difference between my peers who grew up in New Orleans, Europe, and other cultures with a healthier outlook on alcohol, and those who grew up with the typical American attitude.

Sure, call New Orleans parents crazy: for being aware of our drinking since high school, and letting us do it; for going to bars with us; for stocking our bars in our college apartments.

But, before you do that, consider this. Many of my friends in NOLA had charge accounts with United Cab; we didn’t drive after we drank. We went to a bar for some conversation over Brandy Milk Punch or Pimms Cup with live music in the background; we didn’t binge drink somewhere hidden.

We would leave a bar and walk around the Quarter with our drinks, enjoying the city we love in search of some fabulous food, minding our own business rather than running scared from authority. We learned, from early on, to drink responsibly.

Is that crazy?

I am one of very few people I know at college who has never drunk until they’ve been sick, or blacked out. I believe I have New Orleans to thank for that; she teaches her children to respect alcohol, enjoy it, but do so responsibly.

Is NOLA forwardly crazy? Or backwardly genius? She seems like a genius to me.

Elizabeth Kukla writes about her experience as a native New Orleanian — especially from afar — for NolaVie.


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