Monday, October 7, 2013

Can I See Your ID, Please?

Americans are obsessed with their IDs, or better put, with having to show your ID. In the past 5 months, I am sure I have shown my ID more times in the US than in 30 years of life put together. Every time I buy beer in the supermarket,each time I enter a bar or a club, and even when I order a glass of wine at a restaurant, I have to show my ID. And then, it's always such an ordeal. The person looks at my German ID and then I have the identical conversation almost every single time:

ID checker: "Wow, I have never seen one of these before!"
Me: "It's German."
ID checker: "Oh, cool. But where is your birth date on here?"
Me: Right here, under number 3.
ID checker: "Ohhh, ohhh! Sorry, okay, I got it You look different on this picture though."
Me: "I was 16 when I took that picture. Our driver's license doesn't expire so I am stuck with that picture."
ID checker (still skeptical): "Um, okay. Well I guess it's alright."

I am really tired of having to explain my ID several times a week to a random person while all these strangers stare at my pimply ID picture (believe me, I'd like to replace that pic, too!!!).
Yes, of course, the drinking age in the US is 21, and people want to make sure you are REALLY legally allowed to drink a beer. However, EVERY country has drinking age regulations. In some countries teenagers are allowed to drink at age 18, in others at age 19, in others you can start drinking when you are 16 (okay, that might just be beer-loving Germany). Yet, I think before I came to the US, I had to show my ID exactly once for buying alcohol (a bottle of wine) in a German supermarket. While you can buy beer and low-percentage alcohol with 16 in Germany, you have to be 18 to buy wine, for example. I was 20 years old at the time, and the cashier felt really embarrassed afterwards and apologized to me for about 5 minutes. In Germany it is not popular to ask somebody who is over 18 for their ID. Under bouncers, it is a real sport to guess a person's age and NOT having to ask for an ID. Shame on the bouncer who gets your age wrong, he clearly looses respect among his colleagues for getting somebody's age wrong! In the US, it seems to be the exact opposite. You are supposed to check a customer's ID if they look like they could be anywhere between 21 and 26 years old, just to make sure. And while I guess on some level it is flattering to see that I look younger than I am, it does get pretty annoying after a while.
For example, last week, I went to a music festival here in Cincinnati. The festival was spread out over various locations of the city. At the entrance I was asked if I wanted to drink alcohol at some point, and I said "yes". So I got a green bracelet that said OVER 21 on it. Obviously, I had to show my ID in order to get that bracelet. So I went to a different location afterwards, and the bouncer asked me for my ID - again. I showed him the bracelet but he still wanted to see my ID. Explanation: "You can buy those bracelets anywhere." Seriously???!!!! In that case, what is the point of the bracelet anyway? Or, if you want me to wear one, why aren't you able to make bracelets that I can't buy somewhere else so I don't have to show my freaking ID at every single location while wearing a bracelet that says that I am over 21 years old??!!

It really makes me wonder what is it that makes Americans so weary about having to see your ID all the time? It is pretty clear to me that it is not a general obsession with the ID itself, the obsession is more about drinking or buying alcohol in general. There seems to be a general fear of alcohol in this country that I haven't experienced to that extent before in any other country. I have come up with a couple of theories to explain this to me so irrational fear:

1. Penalties for selling alcohol to minors are really high so bar owners prefer to card everybody rather than loosing their liquor license.

2. You need a car to get around in the US. Kids start driving at the age of 16 or even earlier. So the possibilities of going to a party or a bar and taking a bus back home are really limited, which might increase DUI incidents in the states compared to other countries. So government wants to lower the risk for drinking and driving by having very severe laws on buying alcohol.

3. The Puritan legacy in the US (see Prohibition in the 20s).

I haven't actually done any research on the topic, so these might just be some wild theories I am spinning. But I am curious, what do you think? What is it with Americans and alcohol?

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