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Press Release - 15 December 2005

24-hour drinking will not bring European drinking culture to Britain, says expert

Britain will struggle to adopt a more European approach to alcohol despite 24-hour licensing because it does not have the same mature attitude in its drinking culture, according to a researcher studying the French.

The traditional focus of drinking in France has always been the ability to drink strong alcohol while remaining in control, but being drunk and out of control is more widely tolerated in Britain, says Dr Marion Demossier.

This means that attempts to ‘Europeanise’ British drinking through the introduction of 24-hour licences will not get off the ground.

“France and Britain provide very contrasting examples of national drinking cultures,” said Dr Demossier, of the University of Bath's Department of European Studies and Modern Languages.

“The French are traditionally very heavy drinkers with a liking for high-quality strong wines such as denomination of origin wines, which have seen a rise in consumption in recent years.

“But part of the machismo in French drinking has always been on remaining in control despite the amount of alcohol you drink.

“Young French people learn to master the art of drinking through their parents, wider family and friends and they soon learn that being drunk is seen negatively by all.

“Clearly this approach is not something that governments can legislate for, and the change in drinking culture that the British Government is keen to encourage can only really come about through social pressures.”

Dr Demossier is studying French drinking habits because of wide-scale changes to the drinking culture in France.

Since the 1970s there has been a steady decline in alcohol consumption, most notably because of the rise in interest in health and body concerns among young people, especially among women.

One way that France’s traditional wine producers are facing up to the challenge is by developing wines with lower alcohol contents for an increasingly health-conscious French public.

“This moderation in drinking has come as somewhat of a shock to France’s traditional wine producers,” said Dr Demossier.

“Not so long ago people in rural communities would sometimes start their breakfast with a glass of wine. Now the French are consuming less and less alcohol and are placing a greater interest in their health.”



Some statistics:
Official statistics show that alcohol consumption in France decreased by 25 per cent between 1970 and 1990. While declining in popularity, wine is still the dominant drink. Beer consumption remains stable and the consumption of spirits has increased slightly. Since 1981, the percentage of regular drinkers of wine has decreased continually, while the proportion of occasional drinkers continues to rise. However, the proportion of non-consumers appears to have stabilised following a period of increase (23.6 per cent in 1980 to 38.2 per cent in 1990). It is worth noting that in 1990 the number of people who declared that they never drink wine was as high as 50 per cent, which demonstrates a huge change in alcohol drinking culture.

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