HomeQ&AWhat is the drinking culture in Spanish-speaking countries?

What is the drinking culture in Spanish-speaking countries?


Here in the UK, our drinking culture has a very bad reputation: excessive teenage drinking, binge-drinking and drink-driving are major problems. However, I found out when i did a study of German community spirit at college, that in Germany drinking is more of a social thing, something that brings the community together rather than something used to get absolutely 'wasted' by the end of the evening and makes you have no recollection of what happened the next morning. In Germany beer is only as expensive as water and they have massive beer festivals, and yet binge-drinking is not a major social problem there like it is in the UK. I know what I'm saying is a massive generalisation but i have experienced, seen and read about this difference between our two countries.

This makes me interested to find out what the drinking culture is in the different Spanish-speaking countries. What is their general attitude towards alcohol? Are any of their major social problems caused by alcohol? When do they drink it generally? I'm interested to know anything you could tell me on this topic. smile thanks

cardiff x

updated JUL 21, 2010
edited by Cardiff1985
posted by Cardiff1985

2 Answers


My impression had been that the situation in Spain was quite different to the binge-drinking cultures of the UK and Ireland. I had only ever really seen people have a few small beers or some wine while having dinner or chatting with friends. However, last year I was shocked to discover that there is, in fact, a growing alcohol abuse problem, particularly amongst the youth, in Spanish cities and towns.

It has become common practice for young people to gather in the local plaza or wherever and party until four or five in the morning, especially at weekends. There is also a significant problem with drug abuse in many areas.

One of the Spanish mothers with whom I discussed the matter told me that her experience was that young people up to their early twenties tend to be the worst offenders but that they then begin to moderate their consumption somewhat.

From my conversations, and from what I saw on the various local news channels, the police response seems to be patchy; in many areas, they seem to turn a blind eye whereas in other cities or towns, they have been more proactive about clamping down on this type of behaviour.

While I was staying in the old part of Santiago (de Compostela), I was kept awake until after 4.30am every single night, except Monday ("cerrado el lunes"!), with the resultant noise. The dueña told me that in summer it often gets so bad that she and her husband have to go and stay at her mother's house in the country for a few days, simply to get some rest!

Other than this type of binge drinking, the rest of my experience tended to be much as before. I have rarely seen any older Spaniards drink to excess or become inebriated. However, you can find people having a drink at almost any time of day, which is quite strange in my recent UK/Irish experience. I have seen men take a shot of brandy or other spirits with their morning coffee (perhaps 8 or 9 am). I have also occasionally seen beer consumed at breakfast! I have frequently seen office workers pop into the local bar for a little apperitif, glass of wine, small beer or coffee mid-morning. Likewise, it seems to be quite accepted for people to have a little something at lunchtime, although this has been frowned upon by many British companies for perhaps ten years or more now. The one time that my heart really started to race was when I saw a bus driver pop in for a lunchtime beer with his pals! However, I could not be certain that he really did drive off again afterwards when they left.

In the evenings, you will see people go to a bar, cevecería, or tapería for a drink or two with friends. They will often have a tapa or two to eat and then move on somewhere else. However, they may only stay out for a short while before going home or going on to a restaurant for dinner. (In case you haven't already realised this, in Spain lunch will normally be somewhere between 1 and 3 pm, businesses that have closed (c 1.30 or 2pm) re-open 4.30-5.00pm and then close c8.00pm. The exact timing varies locally. Many Spaniards now have the main meal at lunch time but for those who are having dinner, they may not eat until 10pm or later, (you even see little kids out eating at that time) though there is often a merienda in the early evening to keep them going.)

In my opinion, the biggest problem in bars remains the smoke; there are times when you can barely see through the curtain of smoke, never mind breathe. I often had to leave a bar for that very reason. It will be interesting to see the effect of the smoking ban when it finally becomes law. (I'm not certain but I think that the current situation is that small, family-owned and run businesses are exempt from the ban but this is due to change under the new legislation.)

For the sake of thoroughness, I should say that probably the worst offenders in terms of alcohol abuse that I have seen in Spain, particularly, but not exclusively, in the tourist areas, are foreigners and mainly, I am sorry to say, British and Irish nationals, especially holiday-makers. This can be a huge source of justifiable discontent for locals in tourist areas in particular.

This comment is largely based on my own experience, conversations with native-speakers and what I have seen on news programmes but some of those living in Spain may well have another perspective.

updated JUL 21, 2010
edited by peregrinamaria
posted by peregrinamaria
And what exactly were you doing in these bars while making these observations? Hopefully you were just picking up young sailors and not getting hammered. :-) - 0074b507, JUL 20, 2010
Biting my tongue..ouch! As it happens, in many villages and small towns, the local bar is the only place open in the evening. It also tends to be the centre of local life so people drop by for a coffee, a chat etc throughout the day. - peregrinamaria, JUL 21, 2010
So, generally speaking, I was there to eat, to watch football, to watch the world go by and to keep out of the cold. :) - peregrinamaria, JUL 21, 2010
Cold? I always picture Spain as pleasant and sunny. There went my dreams of visiting someday. - 0074b507, JUL 21, 2010
If you go to the Costas along the south coast of Andalucia, it will be warm most of the year, and will be in 30s (100+ for you). However, I was trudging, sorry merrily walking, through the north of Spain in October and November. - peregrinamaria, JUL 21, 2010
Winter hit suddenly, literally overnight; one day 24 degrees C, the next day the temperatures didn't rise about 0! That was the day that I reached Burgos via the aptly-named "Villafría"! - peregrinamaria, JUL 21, 2010
Sorry Q, that should be "it will be in the 30s in the summer, from late June onwards. So definitely go, but pick your time and where you visit accordingly. Galicia is quite like Ireland for instance - lots of precipitation, though milder temperatures. - peregrinamaria, JUL 21, 2010

In México... alcohol (let's think beer, not liquor) is... I don't know, like... drinking water? Mexicans drink a lot, anything can be a good excuse to drink. For instance in the last World cup, a friend of mine was asking me to go with him to watch the games. (I don't like soccer at all, so I passed the invitation, haha (and I don't drink, either) )

He's train of thought was something like this:

Mexico is going to play for the right to go to South Africa: If Mexico wins: Let's celebrate with beer. If Mexico loses: let's drown the pain with beer.

Mexico 's first game: Win: celebrate with beer Lose: drown the pain with beer. Ties: Well, the beer's there, anyways, so let's drink!

Mexico finally beat France: OMG BEER!!!!!!!!!!!! (and partying (with beer) and going out to the streets to celebrate (make sure the cops don't catch us drinking...)

Mexico lost: We need a beer to deal with the pain.

I'm sure I can come up with more examples, and more formal and eloquent ones... but I don't think I'm able to express with words what place beer has in Mexican culture.

updated JUL 21, 2010
posted by MadderSky
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