Things ain’t what they used to be: Drinking

People of Madrid show support for Palestine.

The people of Madrid show their support for Palestine. Photo credit: CC/Dmitry Dzhus

THEY say you never see a drunk Spaniard although personally I think they just know how to hold their drink.

I’ll exclude teenagers as they meet up to celebrate the marathon outdoor drinking sessions called El Botellon (big bottle) each weekend, the nights before public holidays and during fiestas’ celebrations.

It’s binge drinking, pure and simple, with the aim of getting as drunk as possible as soon as possible with booze acquired from supermarkets who are supposed not sell alcohol to anybody under 18.

Not only do they manage to get round the rules but they also manage to continue the Botellon although it has also been illegal for more than 20 years.  Then there’s the health issues involved,  both for the teenagers and the people whose residential areas they turn into raucous litter-strewn no-go zones.

The Botellon didn’t exist in the late 60s when I arrived here, which doesn’t mean that that the young didn’t drink, just that they went about it unobtrusively.

On the whole, the Spanish are all unobtrusive drinkers and I’m convinced that,  Botellon apart, it’s because they always eat something when they drink, whether it’s a meal, tapas or just something to nibble or chew on.

I remember my disappointment early on when a waiter asked my husband if we wanted some “jamón de mono”  which I had no trouble translating as exciting-sounding “monkey ham.”  Alas, it turned out to be unexciting peanuts.

Drinking patterns were different in the distant past, especially in Madrid, according to my husband who remembers how his father – who died long before I came here – spent little time at home in the evenings.

He would come home from work, eat his dinner which was ready waiting for him before going out again.  Nor was there any question of his taking my mother-in-law with him.

He met up with other working-class men, drinking wine in small glasses called “chatos”, eating frugal post-war tapas and, depending on the bar, dancing rumbas or bulerías with women of whose existence the  left-at-home wives preferred to remain ignorant.

It was usually innocent enough for him to take my future husband with him occasionally. Yes, he was probably all of three or four and yes it was late for a child to be out and no, it didn’t do him any harm in later life.

One night Andrés senior forgot that he had taken Andrés junior out with him until he was nearly home.   He rushed back, trying to remember where he had left him and was relieved to find him still installed on the bar counter where he had been deposited so much earlier.

He was so fascinated with his miniature shot-glass of beer, his anchovy-wrapped olive speared on a toothpick and the enthralling commotion going on around him that he was apparently unaware of having been mislaid.

You still see children in bars here, of course, but few of them get left behind and that’s because these days their mothers are allowed to be there too.

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Written by

Linda Hall

Originally from the UK, Linda is based in Valenca and is a reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering local news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at