Being 21 isn’t all its cracked up to be

I turned 21 this Monday.

Typically this means legally drinking as much as possible while also getting as drunk as possible, only for your friends to feed you just enough carbs that you’re able to stumble into Caff’s and Murphy’s after midnight to get your ID checked and your free t-shirt/mug, respectively.

It typically means getting your driver’s license renewed so it is now horizontal, buying wine from Whole Foods and ordering Bloody Marys just because you can and cleaning red Solo cups from your apartment for days.

It typically means you curl up in bed and feel like dying for a few days after, pausing to Face Time your parents and order Jimmy John’s.


But hey, when was the last time I followed rules of typicality, right? (Rhetorical, of course.)

Instead of doing things typically, I spent my weekend watching MUBB over a few beers at the only sports bar that broadcasts ESPN in London. I had to request a form so I can get a new ID mailed to me. I went bar-hopping in Soho three days before my birthday with my flatmates and other friends because I could. (And had the best cake ever!) I celebrated Easter (and my birthday) at a martini bar. I went to high tea and went shopping. I did homework so I’ll finish before I head to Iberia and Italy for the month.

Typical, right?

It may seem obvious, but turning 21 in London is not a big deal. Living with first years, as I do, it really just makes me old.

Birthdays here are more about having an excuse to go out on the town than have a huge party. They’re more about celebrating with friends than worrying about how many presents you got or what free things you can collect.

When drinking isn’t illegal or as big of a deal, you spend your night budgeting for martinis instead of tallying shots on your forearm. You spend your birthday at tea instead of hungover on your best friend’s futon. I can’t honestly say I missed the latter of either.

I know it’s “American” and ritualistic to celebrate your legality on your 21st birthday. All people celebrate the occasion, whether they’re 18 or 21. But noticing the stark cultural differences between London and Milwaukee, I couldn’t help but wonder: is the American version worth it?

Both drinking cultures are fun, have their benefits and detriments. Londoners can be just as rowdy as Milwaukeeans. I have been to bars that rival Victor’s on any Thursday night. I’ve seen plenty of irresponsible people walking around London as any irresponsible senior would wander home from Brady Street.

Despite all that, I honestly think London could be Evidence #1 as to why the drinking age in the U.S should be lowered. The culture, yes, can be similar to that at home. But generally, it’s also safer for everyone.

The focus is on spending time with friends or family, taking hours just to sit at a pub. It’s not almost getting alcohol poisoning, but not quite.

I know I’m making generalizations because my own twin brother’s celebration wad much tamer than described. But as ling as we’re making generalizations, it’s worth considering.

Would we really spend our 21st birthdays getting “so wasted” if it wasn’t the coolest way to celebrate? I think not.

I’ll take my martini over a shot tally any day.