The French Paradox is a Lie

There’s one thing that’s been holding me back in my sobriety and that’s the French paradox. I have a French friend who drinks every day and has done since she was a child, and she’s never got into any trouble with it. The French (and other Europeans) appear to drink sensibly and don’t overdo it. It’s every bit a part of their culture as food is — in fact they regard wine as a food. They drink plenty of it, but don’t seem to have the problems we have. Wine is just part of the joie de vivre. So I’ve always thought that if only I could learn to drink like my friend, all would be fine and I could “have my cake and eat it”. (After all, what’s the point of cake?).

Thanks to my French paradox problem, I’ve done some research into the differences between temperance cultures like the Anglo cultures (those that have had a temperance movement at one time or another) and non-temperance cultures like France. It’s fascinating, and here’s a link for anyone who wants to look into it: Temperance Cultures Concern about Alcohol Problems in Nordic and English-speaking Cultures (and over-simplifying somewhat), non-temperance cultures like France are non-protestant, and alcohol (especially wine) is integrated into the culture. Consumption is high and almost daily, and wine is consumed with food with no intention to get drunk. Public drunkenness is rare and so are AA groups and rehabs. Alcohol is regarded as an almost essential part of a good life.

The temperance cultures on the other hand are predominantly protestant, and alcohol in these countries has tended to be consumed more as beer or spirits (although wine has caught on big time in the last few decades). These cultures drink more on a feast or famine basis (leading to today’s binge culture) with or without food, and often with the intention to get drunk rather than to enhance a meal. These cultures tend to favour abstinence programmes like AA for problem drinkers and regard alcohol as a danger or even as evil, whereas the non-temperance cultures don’t.

It seems like a good idea to try to emulate the non-temperance cultures and drink like them, and I understand why I thought that if I could only do that my “problem” would just go away. However, none of this research has actually led me any closer to being able to do that. Maybe we’re just wired differently.

But now I’ve discovered it’s a lie anyway. The French do have a problem with alcohol – a big one. As in 49,000 French people a year die from alcohol-related causes. (Here’s a link to an article on this: Alcohol report lays bare France’s drink problem ). 49,000. That’s a huge problem. It’s different to the problems we have with alcohol, and it’s more hidden, but that’s a massive number of people dying prematurely because of alcohol.

If wine was a new invention and had never been in existence before, would it be legalised in France, or anywhere, if it kills so many people and gives so little in return? I don’t think so.

This French thing has been a big mental hurdle for me, but I think I’m over it now.

Onward and upward

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Wine and the relation with temperance cultures

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