It’s summer time in Majorca so inevitably there’s been the usual hue and cry about the binge-drinking habits of holidaying British youths and the perilous consequences of excessive drinking. So far this summer – although I’ve given up counting – there have been at least three falls from hotel balconies in the resort of Magaluf and no doubt there’ll be more before the end of the season.
It got me thinking about the drinking culture of British adolescents back home and what fuels it. On the whole in Spain drinking alcohol isn’t regarded as a big deal. Children grow up seeing wine being consumed as part of large family gatherings and celebrations, workmen often have a tipple in the bars mid morning, and groups of youths enjoying a cold lager al fresco in the evening is considered completely normal. A few years ago a study in the Basque region showed that drinking alcohol every day reduced the risk of men suffering from heart disease by a third, and despite being a country with one of the highest levels of alcohol consumption, it also enjoys one of the best life expectancy rates.
Although there’s a ban on serving alcoholic beverages to the under 18s in Spain, there’s a huge dollop of flexibility. If a group of 16 year-olds walk into a Spanish bar and order beers it’s unlikely they’ll be refused. Most teenagers look older than their years and besides, few bar staff can be fussed with demanding identification documents. As long as youths behave and don’t drink to excess, they’ll more or less be left to their own devices. What this means is that the majority of Spanish teenagers have no reason to regard alcohol as the Holy Grail. It’s accessible and not something that needs to be coveted or secreted away so therefore doesn’t particularly represent rebellion or coolness.
As a teenager in the late seventies I can’t recall being particularly motivated by alcohol until I went to university but that’s perhaps because I had a family with liberated ideas on the subject. I recall one memorable holiday on the Spanish mainland when, aged 13, I suffered from a severe bout of what was then called Spanish Sickness. I was holidaying with my two splendid elderly Maiden aunts, Minny and Della- both retired school teachers, fluent in Spanish- who after three days of watching me wilting in a hotel bed, marched me to a local bar where they plied me with Martini Rosso and delicious tapas. Amazingly the friendly barman agreed with their course of action, and by the next morning I was right as rain. All through my youth I was permitted a little wine in water while on holiday and I can safely say that rather than turning me into a raging alcoholic, it took away the mystery associated with imbibing and made me appreciate it as something to be enjoyed socially, but not to excess.
So in my book, it all comes down to drinking in moderation and removing the notion that alcohol is the devil’s own drink, a tag that makes it so highly desirable to British youths. Of course one would hope that the Mediterranean attitude to drinking might rub off on young Britons holidaying abroad but if recent tragic events in Magaluf are anything to go by, that’s not likely to happen any time soon. As they say, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Please feel free to comment on this article. All comments are moderated, so it will appear after I have checked it. Thanks!
Please sign up here for my monthly e-newsletter.