Blue-Eyed Drunks

It’s just after Labor Day, so the American presidential campaign is in full swing. And in Beslan they’re clearing away the wreckage and having multiple funerals in the new extension to the town cemetery. Time to flee for a time from mainstream news to search the odd nooks and crannies of the European press for an obscure gem.

In that vein, stories out of the category “Researchers Research the Darndest Things” are usually good for a laugh. No, this time it’s nothing like an investigation of the impact of cow flatulence on the ozone layer; rather, a team of Norwegian and American researchers have confirmed the stereotypes of Northern Europeans as binge drinkers and Southern Europeans as much better at controlling their alcohol intake. It’s all in their respective genes, you see, as Jens Ejsing writes in Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende (We Drink Because We Have Blue Eyes).

What it all comes down to is that blue-eyed people tend to be more shy in their social behavior. And, as lead-researcher Eric Nævdal of Princeton University and Norges Landbrukshøgskole (Norway’s Agricultural University) explains, “When a shy person takes part in a social situation with alcohol, he or she is inclined to control his/her shyness with that alcohol. This is also true when that person relaxes and gets comfortable.” And so this leads to a higher likelihood of binge-drinking.

And why would Northern Europeans, with their blue eyes, be especially inclined to shyness in the first place? It’s all sheer natural selection: over the centuries their physical and mental characteristics have adjusted fully to their harsher, colder climate that supposedly rewards greater social reserve. In the warmer South, where brown eyes tend to prevail, the climate demands much less of that reserve, alcohol is not needed to overcome much of anything, so it is consumed much more moderately on social occasions (although, in total, much more of it tends to be consumed).

Of course, heredity is not fate, as Nævdal is quick to point out. Just the fact of blue eyes shouldn’t impel one to take away a person’s car keys at the beginning of a soirée. “But this is a genetic impulse, that does pull one in a certain direction.” And finally author Ejsing speculates about whether greater European integration could lead to a sort of “convergence” in this regard, as Northern Europeans naturally learn not to be so shy – while more Southern Europeans learn what it’s like to tie one on once in a while. Ah, but the EU can do little to change the temperature differences that are supposed to be at the bottom of all this. Then again, global warming is doing that already.

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