Why Do Italian Kids Drink Less than Canadian Kids?


I was in the middle of a beautiful dinner in San Leo in Le Marche, when our host, Elena, did something that I couldn’t help deem disturbing.

So far the evening had been enchanting. From her backyard I could enjoy quite a view - the dreamy castle-mounted crag of San Leo and not far off the rise and fall of the hilly Le Marche countryside. It was enough for me to feel at one with this country…

Elena was holding her glass right before her six-year-old daughter’s face. The little green-eyed girl had just uttered in a demanding tone, I want wine. Elena, looking unfazed, turned toward her daughter and helped her take a sip from her glass. As soon as a drop of wine touched the girl’s lips, she backed off grimacing with disgust.

For the very first time I had witnessed a behavior that in time I learned to be quite common in Italy. Back then it felt wrong though. It made me feel uneasy and doubtful. I kept questioning Elena’s doing in indulging her daughter’s curiosity towards alcohol. I judged her thinking that it was simply bad parenting.

Elena has always been a very close friend of mine, and that evening I felt obliged to get my misgivings off my chest. We had an honest conversation that for years I have been having with many other Italians.

When I shared my thoughts with Elena, she objected that my worries were misplaced. She added that children tend not to like alcohol. To them alcohol is just not good. In fact, the more you take alcohol away from them the more they want it.

That was a point I quite honestly struggled to wrap my head around. But then she pointed out that by having young people taste alcohol you make it like any other drink. You normalize it. If you bar children from drinking alcohol you risk turning it into the forbidden fruit. You charge it with a meaning and a taste that’s not even there. And so it happens that year after year they wind up craving it not because they like it but because alcohol is a grown ups thing.

I spend as much time as I can in Italy. After all these years I appreciate that Italians are not as alcohol-obsessed as we are. I realized that an attitude like Elena’s has a positive impact on alcohol consumption. It is a well known fact that young Italians don’t drink as much as young Canadians and that binge drinking is not even an issue over there. Hanging out is more about food than drinking in Italy.

I wonder whether we Canadians got it all wrong, and whether we should adopt Italians’ tolerant views towards young people drinking alcohol altogether.

San Leo, Le Marche

San Leo, Le Marche

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