This summer, I finally turned 21. I say finally because after three years in college and a semester abroad, the privilege of being able to legally drink alcohol at home was a long time coming. Here I am, sipping earl grey and champagne at high tea in London, which was a dream come true. But now I could do it from the comfort of my own home.
Doing new things always brings me a certain level of anxiety over excitement. I remember being a little bit apprehensive buying wine in the Italian grocery stores during my semester in Rome, but I never got carded, which made me extra glad to hand over my money.
When I reached the legal drinking age in America, I did not expect to encounter so many bartenders and waiters who did not want to believe that I was presenting them with a valid ID. When I handed over my California ID for the first time after turning 21, the waiter asked me what day it was. This happened again a week later at a bar with my mom and twin sister. The date of our birthday had passed, which meant that I could be a legal alcohol consumer.
Perhaps the most embarrassing and confusing alcohol-buying experience was at a restaurant with my entire family. The five of us were sitting down looking over the menu, and my parents ordered a bottle of wine. The waiter asked how many people would be drinking it, and my mom said four as she pointed to my twin and I. (Our younger sister couldn’t partake for obvious legal reasons.)
The waiter went on to ask, “And everyone here is 21?” My sister and I both said yes, but he wasn’t asking us. He was asking our mom. So, she explained that it had just been our 21st birthday a few weeks ago and it was fine for him to serve us.
This whole interaction might actually be normal for some people, but I don’t think it should be. I had my ID on me, and the waiter could have asked to see it. Instead, he looked to my parents, so they could bail me out for trying to pose as a 21-year-old.
Buying alcohol is not a moral issue for me. Instead, it has been an identity issue. I get carded just as much as the next person, but I don’t feel comfortable answering so many questions every time I hand over my ID. It’s not a fake, so I shouldn’t be treated like it is. Bartenders can see my real home address, birthday, and my weight. What more do they need to know?
To avoid being patronized, I’ve been sticking with water. This is not to say that ordering water is a problem. It’s totally healthy and free of charge. The choice to order water or another non-alcoholic drink at a bar is a decision that should be personal – no one should feel bullied into it. (I cannot stress this enough.)
I have experienced feelings of panic, nervousness, anxiety, and fear at bars, and that’s all before I even hand my ID over. Then, when I give up my proof of identification, I have been belittled and questioned to the point where I don’t want to go out. Next time, I’d like to take my gin and tonic without condescension.