On late Saturday afternoons we always head to the supermarket and stock up on the weekly groceries. As we were taking the usual path through the aisles on a recent Saturday, I noticed there was a cart set up to try out a new beer that the store was selling. The guy manning the cart was washing the glasses and it seemed as if he had finished with his job for the day. Sometimes there are moments like this when I have to remind myself that I would have found this an unbelievably strange thing only 3 or 4 years ago.
Let me make an attempt to explain how this works to the Americans while also explain to the Europeans why an American would not consider this normal. The European relationship with alcohol is nothing like that of the American relationship. An American child grows up considering alcohol as the forbidden and elusive substance. As a six-year-old American, you might accidentally take a sip of your father’s mixed drink, retracting as your little body experiences the unexpected and overwhelming taste of whisky for the first time. As a sixteen-year-old, driver’s license fresh in hand, you might go to a party in the middle of the country and try not to scrunch up your nose as your taste buds refuse to acclimate to the new taste of beer all the while listening for the sound of approaching cars so you can make your getaway should the cops show up. Americans cannot legally drink until the age of 21 and the society has adapted to fully reinforce this rule. In some states, beverages with a higher alcohol content than 3.2% must be sold in a separate store (in which they sell only alcoholic beverages). Anyone under the age of 21 does not even have the privilege of physically touching alcoholic beverages in any store (even if the bottle is still completely sealed). If you happen to be under the age of 21 and have ingested alcohol and are caught by the police, you will be prosecuted and fined. When you are 21 years of age or older you still have very limited rights concerning alcohol. You are forbidden from having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle and there are many regulations about drinking in public spaces, a lot of which restrict you from legally doing so.
These rules are the norm for Americans. Now it’s easy to see why an American might be a bit surprised to see an open bottle of wine sitting on a table in the supermarket with little cups next to it, available for anyone to have a sip. It’s a novel idea, actually, tasting your wine before you choose to buy it. Moreover, so is buying wine in a supermarket. People are not going crazy downing tiny cups of wine in the aisle and parents are not allowing their children to have a sample. Trust is placed in the individual to act appropriately and it seems to be working just fine. I think it’s quite nice.