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Sophie in Santa Cruz

Stuck between cultures, I’ve done adulthood all wrong. In Switzerland, where I grew up, drinking beer and wine is legal at sixteen. So for me, drinking was never a rebellious act to gain adult prestige. The big marker of adulthood was eighteen, the age I was allowed to vote and, in theory, drive. But driving held little symbolic value for me in a country where public transportation limited neither my mobility, independence nor my social reputation. Eighteen came and went and I stuck to my bicycle.

In the United States, the milestones of adulthood are seemingly reversed. At sixteen you can get your driver’s license. Due to the absence of satisfactory public transportation most people learn to drive as quickly as possible to avoid being driven to appointments by their parents like children to playdates. In the United States, driving is an emancipatory act, the first adolescent pull towards leaving home. In Switzerland, on the contrary, driving is just another adult responsibility, more akin to paying taxes and thus far less enticing.

And drinking? Drinking becomes, unlike in Switzerland, the final bastion of the adult. There is no slow easing into the world of alcohol facilitated by a glass of wine at the parental dinner table. With the last forbidden act, so the myth of omnipotent adulthood is upheld for a good five years longer than it is in Switzerland and many other European countries. Drinking becomes, not a normal part of life but forbidden fruit. Naturally, nobody tries it before it’s legal. None of us get to stay in paradise for long anyhow.

What do I do with this dual cultural legacy? My first encounter with alcohol lies long behind me, so does my twenty-first birthday (fueled by cake rather than the booze customary in the American variant). I have only one more thing left to do: my sixteen year old cousin is teaching me how to drive.

Sophie Silverstein



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