Overseas Briefing

By Kyle Finck

Students study abroad for myriad reasons: to travel, cement friendships and experience things otherwise unable to be had in Middlebury, Vt. As many students will find in Europe, the consumption and attitudes toward alcohol are much different than those of Middlebury students. Instead of a tool for weekend release, alcohol is considered a staple of everyday life — not to be abused, but embraced. Here in Prague, this is no different. Due to this attitude, students studying abroad often over-indulge in alcohol consumption at first, before finally accepting and embracing responsible alcohol usage.

As a responsible and loving consumer of Scotch and other whiskeys, I was looking forward to a break from the Natty Lights of Middlebury. But less than a week into my semester in Prague, the Czech government has imposed an unprecedented countrywide ban on all liquors. Apparently, a guy making moonshine on the Czech-Poland border used menthol instead of ethanol in his secret recipe. Ethanol makes the hangover worth it, but methanol causes blindness and, soon after, death, if consumed.

After 35 deaths and counting, the Czech government was forced to enforce the ban. Liquor stores were boarded and study abroad students took to the streets in protest. One student called it “prohibition in Prague.” Most of us thought that the ban would last a week, at most, and that the enforcement would be lax. But with surprising quickness and efficiency, the Czech government conducted hundreds of raids and even the lowliest of absinthe shops boarded up their liquors. The ultimate irony is that after years of trying to evade the law to get our hands on the hard stuff, we finally get to a place where there are no age restrictions and the law finds another way to withhold hard liquor.

It might, however, be a blessing in disguise. In fear of sounding trite, the lack of hard alcohol has taken away a key to some very dangerous possibilities that come from over-imbibing in drinks with more than 20 percent alcohol. As the great Karl Lindholm told us at our first-year orientation, if you stick to only drinking beer and stay away from the liquor, you will avoid a lot of problems. Is it the worst thing in the world to actually remember what happened last night?

Overnight, the Czech black market took control of Prague’s Scotch market. The usually shady Czechs promoting strip clubs and West Africans hawking marijuana were joined by an array of different characters selling the newly illegal liquor. One seven-foot man (who had an uncanny resemblance to Vlade Divac) offered us a bootleg bottle of Bacardi he promised would lead to the craziest night we’d ever had — not fully realizing the implications of his metaphor. Our friend’s landlord even offered to sell me a bottle of Macallan 18 for 600 crown, or $300.

My parents can take solace that I turned down both offers, in hopes that the ban will be lifted and Ireland’s finest will soon start flowing into Prague in the coming weeks.