Life in Culebrón

Tuesday 29 August 2017 - What can I get you to drink?

I went last night, as I often do, to the Monday evening intercambio session at the Coliseum bar in Pinoso. The idea is simple enough, an English speaker is paired up with a Spanish speaker and the hour long session is divided in half - the conversation is in English to start, or in Spanish, and then, for the second half, it's the other way around. It's supposed to run from 8.30 to 9.30 but we're always a little late starting and so a little late finishing. There is no cost but there is the expectation that you will buy a drink or two.

If things go well, if the conversation flows, as it often does, I really enjoy the sessions because they are an extended chat. They add to my cultural briefing on Spain. The exchanges have to go further than "hello, how are you?" and people are expecting linguistic problems so there is none of the feeling of failure if one of the speakers tries an extended discourse. Serpentine as the monologue of one of the speakers may be, however many times there are attempts to reform the phrase so it makes sense, the other person tries to hang on to the sense and to encourage the speaker.

There are some interesting characters; a bloke who doesn't eat anything that's been cooked, another, an Argentinian, with a Uruguayan background who is a rice chef at a classy local restaurant and a professional waitress who has been moving between jobs trying to find something more permanent. Last night I got a man who has sent the last dozen years teaching Spanish in Serbia, in Belgrade, with the Cervantes Institute.

But it wasn't the intercambio that I intended to write about. It was that thing that the only expectation on the attendees is that they buy a drink, or two.

Despite avoiding water I think I drink quite a lot. I drink tea in a pint pot and, when I have the time, I think nothing of drinking a couple of pints on the trot. I drink juice with breakfast, I drink pop, coffee and non alcohol beer in bars. I tend to drink quickly too. I drink wine, brandy and beer at the same sort of speed as Coca Cola which is one of the reasons that I'm trying to have a bit of an alcohol break at the moment. I don't think I'm unusual. Maggie drinks plenty of liquid too and so did my mum's friends when I visited the UK a couple of weeks ago. There aren't many Britons whose first offer to a guest entering their house isn't a drink - tea, coffee, soft or hard depending on the time of day and the circumstances. At any British event the bar is usually pretty crowded. Spaniards drink too of course but my impression is that they drink less. This isn't a bad or a good thing, it's not comparison of alcohol consumption, it's a comparison of volume and something I think marks a difference. I did look for empirical evidence and I found something from the European Food Safety Authority which listed the UK consumption, per person, as being 1598ml per day as against 820ml for Spaniards but it was a long and learned paper, which I couldn't be bothered to read, so there may be all sorts of provisos against those figures.

In all of the weeks that I've gone to the intercambio I have at least two drinks and sometimes three. We are, after all, sitting at a café table. My Spanish partners don't. Everybody has a drink but they usually stop after the first. Whilst I feel slightly uncomfortable occupying a table with an empty glass or cup in front of me neither the bar staff nor the locals seem at all worried that people are doing just that.

Obviously there are exceptions. Spaniards go out drinking too and they can put plenty away. A good meal is often accompanied by copious quantities of alcohol and the "botellón", a gathering of young people in a public place to socialize and drink alcohol, is very common and is considered, by some, to be a social problem.

Right, that'll do, piece written, I think I'll put the kettle on and get a cup of tea. I deserve it.

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Day to day life in the Spanish village of Culebrón in inland Alicante

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