Spain is a thoroughly social, collective country, which means people are always outside, going for walks around town, meeting up for coffee and drinks, and above all partying. Spaniards sure know how to throw a fiesta. Some of the biggest parties or clubs I have been to in the states pale in comparison to your average Saturday night here, let alone special occasions. There are tons of (religious) holidays in Spain and almost all of them have huge parties that go along with them. Some of the biggest parties in the world are in Spain, such as San Fermín (running of the bulls in Pamplona) and la Tomatina in Buñol, Valencia (tomato throwing), las Fallas in Valencia or Carneval in Cádiz. Since people dine so late, logically they go out even later, plus it’s cooler at night. Usually people leave their apartments around midnight to go out for drinks or tapas at a bar. They also have something called a botellón which is like pregaming, meeting up with your friends and having a few drinks outside in the streets or a park before heading to the dance clubs. But don’t even think about heading to a club or discoteca until at least 2 or 3 in the morning because you will be the only one inside. Most people head home around 6am, but plenty of people stay out later than that. Sometimes when I walk to school in the morning, I see people stumbling back to their apartments. My record is 7:30am, but I think it will be tested next weekend when I head to Cádiz for Carnaval, one of the biggest parties of the year in Spain. I went out on Friday night in Salamanca with some old friends and they all whined and complained when I headed home around 5:30! “Liz, you’re boring, you’re so old! It’s so early, come on just one more club. Buah!” (Buah is a very Spanish sound people make here to express disbelief or surprise. Kinda like pffff or yeah right).
Now the drinking culture is very different in Europe (and basically the rest of the world) than in the States. I think the legal drinking age here is 18, but I have never seen it enforced. I think it’s more like you can drink when you are tall enough to reach the bar. I repeat, I have never had to show an I.D. in Europe! Having spent so much time living abroad, I have come to believe that having much more tolerance for legal alcohol is a lot better in the long run. In Europe you usually have wine with lunch and dinner, and then maybe a beer in the afternoon to relax. Alcohol is not a big deal and people are accustomed to it. It is not uncommon to see people having a beer when they are out with the friends at a cafe in the morning. The difference is that in Spain there is almost no concept of binge drinking and people don’t freak out about “Alcohol, ” or underage drinking because well, there is isn’t any!
If you head out for the crazy parties here, you don’t take tons of shots, you don’t buy enormous liters of alcohol, and you don’t compete with your friends to see who can drink the most. If you pull that kind of stuff here, you will be laughed at by everyone! Literally they will say, silly Americans who don’t know how to drink! Only teenagers here drink like that until they learn better. You have a few drinks and talk with your friends, you meet new people, and you dance all night long! Just enjoy the moment! In Spain you drink slowly throughout the night and maybe when you return home, you’re tipsy. But because it’s so tolerated and part of the culture people don’t get trashed like in the States, there are much less accidents, like drunk driving or alcohol poisoning or even just getting sick. And because it’s legal, people don’t have to drink in secret or in a rush which means a lot less problems. I really believe that it is better to have it legal and monitored and controlled than to do it in secret. Almost everyone in the States drinks underage (especially in college), which means they do it in secret, which can lead to a whole lot of problems. Here people don’t think twice about it; it’s no big deal, and it’s under control with a lot less problems. Spaniards drink a lot less than in the States and they manage to have much wilder, crazier parties! I think that says a lot!