MAASTRICHT. Enjoy your drinks, but be responsible. This was the message spread by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) last Tuesday 18 February at their ‘Responsible Party’ at Café Cliniq.
However, little of that message was to be seen when entering the bar around nine that evening. Instead, everybody was enjoying an international dinner, where exchange students offered signature dishes from their home country. “We did that on purpose”, says Constanza Burdese, organiser of the party. “We decided to organise an informal night that’s not centred around responsibility, because no one goes to an event just to be lectured on the dangers of drinking too much alcohol. The international dinner is something we host every year and we combined it with the responsible party. Besides, it’s one of our tips to never drink on an empty stomach, so the international dinner has a practical use too.”
The initiative has nothing to do with the new Dutch law that forbids people under the age of eighteen from drinking alcohol. Burdese: “It’s actually a project by ESN AISBL (the international platform of ESN) , and around five other student cities in the Netherlands also host a party like this.”
Telling exchange students to watch their drinking might seem like fighting a losing battle. “It’s true that some exchange students go abroad with the aim of drinking away the semester”, says Danny Janssen, board member of ESN Netherlands. “You can’t change that mindset, but that’s not our goal. We just want to add a message to this party and hopefully people will pick it up.”
At the end of the dinner and the start of the party, a drinking wheel is brought to the floor. The number you spin determines your drink – but on this wheel, you can also win non-alcoholic drinks. Water bottles, condoms and breathalysers to check your own blood alcohol level are all handed out. The message that ESN wants to get across is clear, but what do the partygoers think of it? All agree that it’s good to pay attention to the matter. But at the same time, “It’s good that it’s not forced on you”, one says. “If it had been called a responsible party on Facebook, I wouldn’t have come.”
Does ESN expect to make a difference? Janssen: “Well, last year, ESN in Groningen organised the same party and also handed out water bottles. The day after the party, people started to post on social media how happy they were with the extra water and that went viral, so it definitely stuck.”