By Kirstin Hollingsworth
“No, no, no,” my mother-in-law tutted as I tried to order a vermouth in the evening. “Eso es para antes de comer.” That’s for before lunch, silly!
How was I to know? Growing up in the UK, there were only two rules about what you could drink and when: the first being that beer was OK at lunchtime if you didn’t have a lot on in the afternoon, and the second being that pretty much anything was fine to drink after 5pm. Clearly, when it came to drinking in Spain, I had a lot to learn.
To save you my embarrassment while drinking with Spaniards, I’ve written this simple guide. Let’s start with the morning. In Spain, it’s morning until you’ve had your lunch, which might not be until 2 or even 3pm. While drinking at breakfast definitely isn’t encouraged, my father-in-law has been known to drink a glass of red wine with a steak he’s cooked himself mid-morning as a treat when he’s not working.
At the weekend or whenever you go out for lunch, it’s quite common to go to a bar first to have a drink before eating. Drinks commonly ordered can include cañas (small glasses of beer); claras (shandy); white wine, sherry, or vermouth. You may or may not have a tapa with these, depending on the occasion.
As for lunch itself, the drinks are usually red wine and/or water. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk anything else at lunch in Spain. If you’re not going back to work, you might even sneak in a chupito – a neat serving of spirits (don’t treat this like a shot – it’s for sipping, not a down-in-one). The spirit of choice will likely vary depending on where you are. My husband-to-be’s family are from Cantabria, and they drink orujo. This drink is local to Cantabria, Asturias, and Galicia and comes in flavours including herbal, coffee, plain, and honey. It’s made from fermented grape skins and if you get a chance to sample it, I definitely recommend it.
If you’re meeting a friend in the evening before you eat, don’t make the mistake I did and order a gin tonic, because you’ll get teased. That’s for after dinner. Now’s the time for a soft drink, a coffee, or possibly a beer. Generally, the earlier in the evening it is the more likely your companions are to be ordering a tonic water, a fanta, or something else equally non-alcoholic.
Dinner? Definitely red wine. But with the exception proving the rule, I know one Spanish woman and her partner who like to drink tinto de verano or sangría with their evening meal, because it’s not as strong.
If you go out afterwards, now’s the time for cocktails, beer, spirits…but not vermouth! And a word of warning: public drunkenness is considered pretty socially unacceptable in Spain, and you risk embarrassing whoever you’re with if you down too many. My experience is that the Spanish have a generally healthy attitude towards drinking, and bars are frequently family spaces in which the generations all mingle together, catching up on news and gossip. ¡Salut!
Kirstin is slowly learning about Spain and Spanish culture following her engagement to a Spaniard. She splits her time between the UK and Spain and blogs at https://alifein2languages.wordpress.com/