Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Un verre de vin, s'il vous plaît.

Think of the children. Specifically the 18-year-olds given wine on a class trip to France, with their parents' permission. To Paris, where I'm going to guess none of them were driving. But the school - in New York, a city that effectively has no drinking age, and where private-school kids are having a lot more than a special-occasion glass of wine - has a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol on school trips. I get that Europe is inherently racy, what with the European men all around, but was this really a reason to fire the teacher?

As someone who has taught French to many 18-year-olds, I've always found it a challenge how to bring up the role of wine in French culture (and "Je vais prendre un verre de vin" is in every college-level French textbook, unless BYU makes a special one), while at the same time maintaining the premise that my students (many of whom are over 21, but I can never tell which) wouldn't know a verre of vin if it were right in front of them. The underlying assumption is that they're learning this for possible trips to/study-abroad in France or Quebec, where they're almost definitely of-age, and where they can decide if they agree that white wine goes with fish or whatever. I'm always incredibly clear with my students that they are not to bring wine to class, even if it is French Cuisine Day (also a cultural point to bring up, if it happens to be a morning class - even in Frahnce, wine is not served with breakfast!), and have never had any problems. But the idea that the 21 rule would somehow extend to a place where teenagers pick up wine for their families at the supermarket is probably something that wouldn't even occur to most French instructors at the college level. It must be all the more baffling for those who weren't raised in the States themselves.

Does the fact that these 18-year-old "children" were in high school make it different? Liability-wise, perhaps - it does tell us something that parental consent was sought in the first place. But legally, a 20-year-old college junior is as much a child in the eyes of U.S. alcohol policy as a high school student, and an 18-year-old, in contexts not having to do with drinking, is legally an adult. In any case, it's good to hear this teacher found employment elsewhere in the city.

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