NEWS FEATURE: Teens and alcohol and how we compare

The Irish relationship with drink has come in for a lot of criticism, not least in Des Bishop’s recent TV series. But how do young people treat alcohol in other countries? We sent reporters out with teenagers in six different cities to talk about alcohol, clothes and the opposite sex

Dublin

Jonathan DeBurca Butler

ON a Saturday night on Grafton Street, 18-year-old Reese is playing ‘Sultans of Swing’, by Dire Straits, on his electric guitar. He has been out for an hour but he has not made much cash. He is saving to go to Ballyfermot music college next year.

“I’ll probably go for a few drinks after here,” he says. “To Sweeney’s or The Shakespeare.” His friend, 16-year-old Davie, is from the north inner city. “I’ll probably get a few cans or bottles for tonight,” he says. “I don’t know where I’ll go; wherever the drink leads me. I wouldn’t get into a bar or nightclub without fake ID, and I only have bum fluff on the chin.”

Davie doesn’t buy drink. He “leaves that to my mates”. His friends are older than him. Nearby, a couple are flirting under a lamppost. They are friendly. “We just went up to Merrion Square and had a few cans,” says 19-year-old James. “It’s better. There’s no rules. You can be yourself. If you go to clubs, you’d be pulled out of them for even resting your eyes.”

James has had one-and-a-half cans of lager so far. His girlfriend, aged 17, has had three. His girlfriend smokes marijuana on occasion. James does not like that. “It’s a bad drug,” he says. “People get addicted.” “It’s not the worst,” says his girlfriend. “You can’t get addicted to weed.”

The couple say harder drugs are easy to get. “It’s like walking into a shop and getting a packet of smokes,” says James. “We were sitting around Stephen’s Green one day, just talking about ‘e’ (ecstasy) and, next thing, this man came along with a brown paper bag saying ‘e, e’. We said ‘no’ and he strolled off to his next victim.”

Sophie, 16, is coming from a Twitter meet-up when she stops to chat. “It was awesome,” she says. “I met so many people and made so many new friends.” She roles up the sleeves of her army jacket and shows me scrawled Twitter addresses written across her hand.

“We all just sat around,” she says. “Loads of people were drinking. That’s why we were kicked out of all the places [St. Stephen’s Green, Iveagh Gardens and Merrion Square]. It’s a bit of a pain. I drank today. A naggin, two cans and wine.”

Under the Central Bank, near Temple Bar, we meet a group of young people. Judging by the differences in accents, they come from different social backgrounds. They meet regularly at this spot. Some of them are drinking. One is drunk and is trying it on with a girl. She is dressed in very short shorts and wears too much make-up. She is having none of it. Just a few yards away, some gardaí are standing, watching a DJ play reggae music.

“I’ve just had a few cans,” says 16-year-old Larry as his friends gather around him. “Before I came out, I had some whiskey and a bit of brandy. I just took it from the house.” Larry is drunk and pale. We can’t be sure his spiel about the brandy and whiskey is true, but his boasting about it says a lot. There are 20 in this group. I ask them if they feel safe around Temple Bar at night. “As long as you’re in a group,” says Alex, 14. “I have a friend who was out on his own and was jumped by six lads. He had to get stitches in his head.”

*All names, excepting Reese and James, have been changed at the interviewees’ request.

Sydney

Niamh Walsh

GROWING up in Sydney now is much like growing up in Dublin in the Celtic Tiger years. The country has a strong economy, so teenagers have their pick of part-time jobs, plenty of disposable income and one way they like to spend it; having a good time.

Like Ireland, alcohol plays a huge part in how they have fun. Be it at private house parties, at one of the growing number of dance festivals or at popular party areas like Kings Cross, they just want to get drunk.

‘The Cross’, as it’s affectionately known, is a strip of pubs and nightclubs about a kilometre east of the CBD and is the only place to be seen on a Friday night.

It’s only 9pm when I meet Codi Thain here. Today is her 18th birthday and, together with her friend, Ally, she is having her first night out in Kings Cross. Both girls are also celebrating their graduation from high school today.

Codi hasn’t been out in ‘The Cross’ before as she’s never had a fake ID, but knows many 16- and 17-year-olds who have.

Australia enforces very strict RSA (responsible service of alcohol) policies, so teenagers under 18 often steal a sibling’s driver’s licence or purchase a fake.

Both girls are wearing impossibly high heels and short, figure-hugging dresses. Neither is carrying a handbag, and, when I query this, Codi points at her shoulder, where she has an iPhone tucked into her bra. “My money and ID are in the case,” she says.

She also produces a single cigarette and lighter from the same bra. “I have another behind my ear, if I need it.”

They’re both looking for boys tonight, but say that they wouldn’t be afraid to walk away from a guy if he was too drunk. “If he wouldn’t take no for an answer, I’d just take off my shoe and smack him with it,” says Ally.

Unfortunately, Kings Cross has become a dangerous place for young people.

Two months ago, 18-year-old Thomas Kelly was assaulted on the strip. He died from his injuries. Another 18-year-old has been charged with his murder.

Since then, the Government is cracking down on the area and has banned shots, doubles and alco-pops after midnight on weekends.

To combat this, teenagers are just drinking more before they go out.

‘Loading’ is a widespread problem among Sydney youths, and 19-year-old Jon Staynes is pretty drunk as I meet him off the train at 10pm. “I had about seven or eight drinks at home,” he says.

Jon says that what a girl wears represents who she is. “Ya, if I see a girl in a short skirt and low top, I’m going to think she’s easy, but she should be allowed to wear what she wants — that’s her choice,” he says.

The biggest challenge in Kings Cross is getting home. Public transport in Sydney is non-existent after midnight. Codi and Ally say they’ll be getting a bus, although neither knows where the bus goes from, or when. Jon will try to get a cab, but knows it will be a challenge. My biggest worry is for the final group I meet. Joanna has just turned 20 and will be driving her two 19-year-old friends, Stephanie and Stef, home. A taxi would cost $150 to where they live.

“It’s okay, though,” Stephanie says, “we’re making sure she only has one drink an hour, so that she’s okay to drive.”

Barcelona

Richard Fitzpatrick

THERE are a couple of hallmarks to nightlife for teenagers in Barcelona. The first is a universal one — invariably teenagers hang out on the streets, parks and plazas in the city late at night unbeknownst to their parents.

Sara Jimenez, for example, is 13 years of age. Normally she’d be allowed out until 9pm, but on this Saturday night she’s staying over at her friend Lorena’s house. Lorena Sanchez is 15 years of age. Lorena’s parents are out at a party, which gives them a chance to cruise until 1am.

I meet them sometime after midnight on a street corner near Plaça del Sol, which is one of several plazas in the Gràcia district in Barcelona. Gràcia, which is their local neighbourhood, is a hip quarter in the northern part of the city.

Its plazas spill over on weekend nights, mainly with twentysomething-year-olds drinking and smoking at tables outside bars and cafés or on park benches.

The girls are with Marta Lopez, another friend, who is 12 years of age, and a 15-year-old male friend who is coy and won’t give his name away. The girls don’t drink, but he says he’s tried the full range of drinks, including beer, vodka and whiskey. It’s relatively easy for teenagers in Barcelona to buy alcohol if underage — either at the big supermarket chains or from the low-end ones operated by Asian immigrants. The boy smokes marijuana, he admits, “but only at parties”.

Like other young teenagers in the city, they go to discos occasionally, which run in the evenings from 5pm to 10pm.; tickets cost €10, which is quite a lot, given salaries in Spain tend to be about half of those in Ireland, and children under 16 years of age are not allowed to work part-time jobs.

If police spot them loitering around the streets, they can ask to see their identification. “If you’re under 14, they’ll call your parents,” says Sara, “but we’ve never been in trouble.”

It’s only before and after the summer that they get to hang out. “It’s too cold to be outside in the winter,” says Marta.

They don’t wear much make-up — just some nail varnish and eye-liner; no lipstick. Their clothes are skimpy, but this isn’t unusual given 25°C temperatures on a typically humid early September night.

Neither is there a sense that they dress up dramatically to go out at night. They wear the same clothes to the beach, to the market and when they’re socialising.

The second notable thing about nightlife for Barcelona’s teenagers is that they all have personal experience or know of someone who’s been robbed while out at night-time.

“My friend was robbed in Sabadell [a suburb of Barcelona]. The thieves held a knife to her neck and stole her wallet. She didn’t tell her parents because she was out without permission,” says Lorena.

They also have to steer clear of grumpy dwellers. Residents in Barcelona are notoriously proactive in trying to discipline rowdy teenagers at night-time. They will hurl water, tomatoes and eggs. Others beg partiers to be quiet with banners placed on their windowsills: “We want to sleep.” the ones around Gràcia plea.

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