The majority of Brits spend their university days enveloped in a haze of alcohol that oils the wheels of their social lives, cushions their academic crises and whips up their weekends, weeks, evenings and even the odd morning.
Not so their American neighbours. In the good old US of A, you can use a shotgun almost as soon as you can carry it, drive a car from the age of 16 and kill for your country before you even consider university. Yet, until your twenty-first birthday, a glass of wine with dinner or a pint of beer at a football game remains a criminal offence in most states.
Almost all American students think these laws ridiculous, and all Europeans certainly do. Yet they show no signs of disappearing, and their effects are widely felt.
Not only is it an impediment to normal socializing, it also means that far more importance is attached, in the freshman year particularly, to underage drinking. This can be disturbing for Brits who suddenly feel fourteen again, hiding their vodka bottles under the bed.
Fake IDs, although obviously illegal, are used by the majority of US students to lubricate their first couple of years. Those lucky enough to have older brothers or sisters often take advantage of this fact. Be warned, however. Arrests happen frequently enough for actual concern, and there are horror stories among international students of offenders being deported.
The stories may be fictitious, but it is certainly not uncommon for IDs to be confiscated and even handed to the police.
Of-age Brits should also be aware that their English driving licence is not considered by many of the more pedantic East Coast bartenders to be a sufficient form of identification. It pays to have a colour photocopy of your passport with you at all times. This also helps to clear up the issue of reversed dates (the whole month/day, day/month thing can be a nightmare).
Certain areas are infinitely more difficult than others. Unsurprisingly, Puritan New England suffers the most. In some states (most notably Massachusetts) it is still illegal to buy alcohol on Sundays, and dry towns (a concept that would appall the average Englishman) are not uncommon.
Those interested in hitting the biggest nightspot of them all will be relieved to learn that the majority of bars in New York City are considerably more relaxed.
No smoking please
It is easy to spot the Europeans on winter nights at East Coast American universities.
While everyone else is tucked up in their dorm rooms, watching four feet of snow pile up around the windows, the Europeans are sitting on their doorsteps, shivering in an inadequate coat, frantically trying to warm themselves by the heat of a much needed cigarette.
They can only find this nicotine solace outdoors because legislation across most of the United States has banned smoking in restaurants, bars and clubs (as well as the more obvious offices and dorm rooms). Americans, particularly those of the educated variety, are frequently militant anti-smokers and for Brits with a pack-a-day mentality, this can come as a rude surprise.
Certain areas of the States are much more draconian than others – in California, for example, the only cigarettes you are likely to come across are those chain-smoked by the odd Hollywood actress in a bid to expunge all food from her diet.
But although America as a whole is rapidly becoming a no-cigarette zone, stressed-out students are one sector of the population who can be relied on to boost sales. Smoking comrades are always available, but the problem lies in finding somewhere to join them.
BTW for those of you Brits who are die-hard smokers, a word of warning: calling a cigarette a ‘fag’ is NOT a good idea unless you are given to provoking multiple misunderstandings, embarrassment and lectures on political correctness! (In the US, "fag" is a very derogatory term for a male homosexual).
Just don’t inhale - and you too can become President
Drug-taking among university students in America is really little different from drug-taking among their contemporaries in England. Some do it all the time, some never touch the stuff. The range of drugs is also pretty similar – rich, spoilt kids do cocaine, everyone else smokes pot, and the experimental ones swallow any pill going.
If there is one small difference, it is that marijuana is probably even more popular among students in the US than it is in the UK.
The reason for this is probably because alcohol is so much harder to come by for under-21s in America, and it is often easier to smoke a joint in your dorm room than be chucked out by bar after bar on a Saturday night.
Since the joys of Woodstock and the Swinging Sixties, pot has never really relinquished its place as drug of choice for students eager to escape reality. However, this is not to say the American bureaucracy is willing to overlook a bunch of stoned students. Drug laws can be pretty tough and, in case you need reminding, as an international student you are particularly liable for harsh punishment.
Definitely, definitely do not drive under the influence of anything. In some college towns, fines and legal fees for DUI (Driving under the Influence arrests) cases are a
growth industry, plus you will not enjoy the company of your fellow inmates all night in the local lockup.
Universities are normally willing to turn a blind eye to the first minor drug offence but, as with alcohol, if you are going to indulge, you need to keep your wits about you and be careful not to get caught.
Also, if you are an athete or going through the recruiting process for any money-making finance jobs, you should be warned that random drug-testing is one of the perils of the process and something that has succeeded in dashing the hopes of many an ambitious stoner.