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Wednesday April 10, 2013

Are Spanish youths really hitting the bottle?

Despite a recent survey showing that 60 per cent of Spanish teenagers aged 13 to 18 do not take drugs and very rarely touch alcohol, the central government in Madrid has decided to raise the permitted age for alcohol consumption and purchase to 18 in order to ‘protect children’ and to reduce anti-social behaviour in public places. Currently in Asturias in the north of Spain the age limit is 16 years. When the new law is inaugurated no autonomous region will be able to create such variations to the law.

The Spanish phenomenon of el bottelón which amounts to an al fresco ‘drink-fest’ for young people in town plaças and on the street has become a problem in some areas of the country, not least here in Majorca’s capital of Palma where these infamous weekend events attract scores of youths during the summer months. They arrive armed with bottles of spirits and soft drinks which are mixed together in large plastic buckets for group sharing. Many of these highly intoxicating concoctions are responsible for a growing number of road accidents involving young people late at night, and the local police constantly try to crackdown on such spontaneous street parties but it’s an uphill struggle.

On a positive note, aside from el bottelón which largely takes place at the weekend and only affects a relatively small number of the nation’s youth- many who participate are foreign holidaymakers- Spanish teenagers are far less likely to succumb to binge drinking in the same manner as their British counterparts.

In our valley my sixteen year-old son is often asked by restaurant owners if he’d like a beer or glass of wine with his meal and he always politely declines although at home he’ll occasionally have one, at our invitation. Culturally imbibing alcohol isn’t such a big deal here in Spain meaning that most teenagers consume little, if at all. Here in Soller I am always fascinated by the big groups of youths who habitually meet up at the weekend for supper in local restaurants and who rarely drink. Most order Fanta or Coke and one or two might choose to order a bottle of lager but that’s it. They don’t feel the need to get raucously drunk and have been brought up to appreciate and respect the grape rather than abuse it. By contrast some British teenagers I’ve met seem hell-bent on finding ways to procure alcohol and will go to extraordinary lengths to smuggle it into school or home. And why? Because it’s forbidden and therefore highly prized and desirable.

So the Spanish government is right to take the health of its youth seriously and to minimise the impact of rowdy drinking affairs such as the bottelons but it should be grateful that underage alcohol consumption is far less of an issue than in the UK. And of course the main reason why young Spaniards do not over imbibe is because they simply don’t have the British frenzied and uncontrolled desire to get utterly wasted in order to have fun.

Spanish youths should therefore be allowed to eat, drink and be merry as they have done for generations, providing of course that they continue to conduct themselves with a generous sprinkling of decorum.

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