It seems contradictory to health standards for a pharmacy to sell cigarettes, yet it’s expected for convenience stores and pharmacies to do so in America. However, a search for any kind of alcoholic beverage at the grocery store will leave a shopper disappointed.
It must be so common here in Philadelphia that people don’t think much about this, but I can say that for a foreign student – or at least for a Brazilian one – it has been surprising.
In general, pharmacies in Brazil sell only medicine and cosmetics – no cookies, chips, candies or soda. Cigarettes won’t be found there either, because pharmacies in Brazil are focused on health. The convenience of having so many products at one place in America, like at Rite Aid is helpful, though.
The surprises don’t stop at pharmacies – grocery stores here are an equally foreign concept. The difference is in where alcoholic beverages are sold in Philadelphia, because they can’t be found at the Fresh Grocer. It’s a Pennsylvania law that only places with special licenses can sell it, like liquor stores and bars. In Brazil, alcohol is sold at any grocery store, whether big or small. Even the food trucks in the streets have at least beer to sell.
It’s odd to someone who didn’t grow up here that alcohol can only be bought by people 21 and older – people can’t even get into most clubs and bars if they’re too young. In Brazil, people are allowed by buy it at 18 years old. The idea is if a person can drive and smoke, they should be allowed to drink, too.
The law seems to imply that alcohol is something more special than it really is. Other countries don’t create such an illusion that alcohol is always a serious thing. When people under 21 have a chance to drink, many tend to overdo it. These dramatic results often happen at college parties. Just observing spring break for American students shows that the law is not really helping to avoid drinking problems. I believe it is creating an entirely different meaning of drinking alcohol, like it is some kind of prize to be sought after.
In Brazil, teenagers probably have their first drink earlier, which might make the United States look better in international surveys about teenage drinking. But what should be considered instead is the fascination young adults have with alcohol, the mysterious liquid that grocery stores cannot stock on their shelves.
Despite this contradictory rule, American grocery stores, restaurants and pharmacies have advantages, such as reward cards. For a college student, that’s extremely useful because we return to those stores to buy everyday necessities. This kind of card is not common in Brazil, only to be found in a few places.
I discovered another phenomenon when I bought hot chocolate powder here – on the front of the package, there was a coupon for the next package. That never happened to me in Brazil, with any product. Convenience isn’t the name of the game in Brazil, with stores open 24/7 like in Philly. Even convenience stores or gas stations in Brazil close at certain times, mostly because of risk of assaults.
Between the advantages and disadvantages, I still prefer Brazilian grocery stores and pharmacies. There, I get my bread still hot from the grocer oven while buying my alcohol at the same place, and if I want, I can open it in the middle of the street and drink it during my walk home.
Here, I buy mass-produced bread and I need to go to a different store to buy alcohol, which I need to bring home in a black bag, as if I’m carrying something illicit.
The final cruel irony for someone who’s been legally drinking for years is that I have to show my ID beforehand – nobody believes I am older than 21 years old.
Monique Roos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.