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Spanish Secrets: Binge Drinking

In this thoughtful column Craig Briggs suggest that besides pubs Britain needs European-style bars, places that are open to all and fun for all, where drinking to excess is looked upon as childish, rather than adult.

This week our friend Mitty from California visited us. We collected her from Saintiago de Compostela airport on Tuesday afternoon. This was the final leg of her journey, which had so far taken 23 hours.

Whilst waiting 6 hours at Heathrow for her connecting flight to Santiago, she'd noticed several national newspaper headlines regarding excessive drinking. This prompted her to comment that she hadn't noticed Spanish people drinking too much alcohol.

We explained that in our experience, this wasn't the case. On average, Spanish people probably drink significantly more alcohol than the English. What is different though is the English culture of binge drinking.

Reading one of these reports in a newspaper we'd bought at the airport my initial reaction was that a law allowing pubs to open for 24 hours was a step in the right direction. On further thought though I'm not sure it is.

In my opinion the institution of the English Pub is at fault, not the length of the opening hours.

I remember how as a young lad nearing the age of 15, I perceived that my transition into adulthood was linked to The Pub. The first step on the road to becoming "a man" was to venture into one of these mysterious places.

Opaque windows and double doors meant that only fleeting glimpses of these taboo buildings and their occupants were visible to young boys. With the opening and closing of the doors came the alluring smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke.

After entering all eyes were focused on the boy. It was as if everyone knew my exact date of birth. There was no turning back. Casually I walked the half dozen steps to the bar. The longest half dozen steps I'd ever walked.

Then in my best old-voice impersonation requested, "A pint of bitter please"

"Are you eighteen?" the landlord asked in an almost rhetorical manner.

"Yes" was the reply.

The pint was served and duly drunk. A "man" is born - well not quite. One can only enter the ranks of adulthood after demonstrating the ability to consume more alcohol than one's peers.

Over the passage of time this almost innocent experiment with alcohol has become more extreme, to the point where binge drinking is an anti-social problem requiring government intervention.

Here in Spain and other countries in Europe there are bars, not pubs. Bars bear little, if any, resemblance to pubs. They do serve alcohol, but also almost any other beverage you can think of.

They are family centres, open to all and used by all. They open for breakfast and close when the last person leaves. They are owned by families and run by families.

There is no mystique about them, no smoked glass or closed doors. Spanish people, young and old, enjoy life and want to be sober enough to enjoy it.

The English pub is a national institution, a tradition and long may it remain so.

What are needed to run alongside pubs are European style bars, places that are open to all and fun for all. Where drinking to excess is looked upon as childish and not adult.

What's needed is a change in attitude, not a change in opening hours.


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craigandmel@msn.com

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