These current trends and changes deserve more detailed investigation, not only because the symbolic functions of drinks are of interest in their own right, but because, as Mandelbaum pointed out in his highly influential 1965 paper ‘, "changes in drinking customs may offer clues to fundamental social changes". In Europe, current changes in drinking customs may offer a new perspective on cultural ‘convergence’.
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A move away from ‘transition-to-work’ drinking, for example, in a culture where this practice was commonplace, could be a cause for concern, as cultures with a purely recreational, festive representation of alcohol, where drinking is perceived as antithetical to working, tend to have a more difficult relationship with alcohol, associated with higher levels of alcohol-related harm. There are currently early signs of just such a shift in Italy and in Spain (Cottino, 1995; Gamella, 1995).
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A classic illustration of ‘fundamental social changes’ associated with the adoption of imported beverages - and one which may prove something of a cautionary tale for legislators - is provided by MacAndrew and Edgerton (1969): During their traditional cactus-wine ceremonies, the Papago of Mexico frequently became "falling-down drunk"- indeed, it was common practice among the more dandyish young men of the tribe to paint the soles of their feet with red dye, so that when they fell down drunk the attractive colour would show. Yet the drunken behaviour of the Papago on these occasions was invariably peaceful, harmonious and good-tempered. With the ‘white man’, however, came whiskey, which became associated with an entirely different type of drunken comportment involving aggression, fighting and other anti-social behaviours. These "two types of drinking" co-existed until the white man, in his wisdom, attempted to curb the ill-effects of alcohol on the Papago by banning drinking, including the still-peaceful wine ceremonies. Prohibition failed, and the wine ceremonies eventually became indistinguishable, in terms of behaviour, from the secular whiskey-drinking.