Drinking Culture in Spain

Dear Nikki,

It’s come to my attention that Claudia and I often reference activities like ‘grabbing a few beers,’ ‘enjoying a sangria in the sunshine,’ etc. and I really hope this doesn’t come across as inappropriate or that we are alcoholics (I promise, we’re not!). On the contrary, the drinking culture here in Spain is simply different that in the US so let me explain a bit.

In Europe, the legal drinking age is 18, but many people will be offered a glass of wine at their family Sunday lunch before then (I know I was when studying abroad!). Because alcohol is less off-limits, teens tend to have more experience with it and, in my opinion, this leads to a healthier relationship with drinking. While you’ll find young people who are irresponsible in every country, drinking here in Spain tends to be a pretty casual affair.

What I mean by 'casual' is that people can have a drink or two everyday―especially if they go out for food―and this is not viewed as questionable judgement. It’s also (generally) appropriate for colleagues to get drinks directly after work, even with their bosses. People aren’t getting rip-roaring drunk on most of these occasions so it’s not seen as unprofessional, it’s just a social opportunity.

Just like in the adult world in the States, responsible drinking is often tied to social events. Language schools often have a copa de bienvenido ("welcome drink") event in which sangria or other alcoholic beverages are provided to welcome students. Intercambios tend to take place in bars where tapas and alcohol are available. I’ve even had shots of holiday liqueur with my boss and co-workers (in the office!) to celebrate the last day before Christmas break―and nobody else found that strange...

While I am not saying that everyone here drinks all the time (nor that you have to), I simply want you to know why I may mention it so casually. And why your study abroad program coordinators will most likely do so as well. They’re not condoning under-aged drinking by sharing the best places to go out or explaining the different ways to order a beer. The reality is that everyone above the age of 18 is legally allowed to consume alcohol in Spain so there’s no stigma or taboo about the topic.

Anyways, just wanted to clear the air on the drinking culture on this side of the Atlantic. Cheers!