That look of eyebrow-raised dull disdain that skirts back and forth across the Atlantic between the United States and France won’t be going away anytime soon. In what appears to be a below-the-belt blow to both French culture and anti-American posturing in France, Americans will surpass the French in wine consumption per capita within a few years.
According to a study commissioned for the Vinexpo wine fair in Bordeaux, the U.S. will be the world’s top consumer of wine by 2008. What’s worse is that while U.S. consumption will likely continue to rise over the next several years, French wine consumption will likely continue to fall. The French pallet, so long enamored with poking fun at the Americans for a tendency to eat steak with a glass of milk rather than a glass of the good stuff, appears to be drifting towards beer. In fact, the average French citizen increasingly prefers the malt to the extent that the French government has recently had to enact a large tax increase on beer sales to appease the country’s wine makers.
On the surface, particularly to reactionaries and cultural seclusionists, this is a sad state of affairs. However, not too many people will argue that it is a bad thing that Americans are forgoing a cup of milk at dinner in favor of a glass of wine. The health benefits of wine, especially for a generation of aging baby boomers, make it almost absurd to not drink a glass or two at every meal excluding breakfast. And when you take a step back and look at the history of both wine and beer, you can’t help but marvel at how both of these concoctions have accompanied humanity through nearly every major historical and sociological event of the last ten thousand years.
The phenomenon of beer gaining popularity in France is the same as wine gaining popularity in the U.S. – both populations are reacting to the information age. With the birth of the internet came the blurring of cultural boundaries and the ability to share traditions. An entire generation is now exploring what it means to learn about the other guy rather than be kept in the dark to other fads, traditions and opinions. We should all be so glad that Americans are finally starting to discover the spirit of family, celebration and meditation that wine can bring to the dinner table, just as the French are discovering how damn good a Belgian Ale tastes with steamed mussels in a garlic-cream sauce.
Neither event means the destruction of anything – quite the opposite. It is representative of trying new things – a gift that can only be accompanied with sharing and growth. The world is a lot bigger now than it ever was, and it’s getting bigger by the second as any blogger can attest to. It’s time we stop worrying about what we’re losing and start enjoying what we’re gaining.