Monday, 17 September 2012

Social Cohesion

 Keen readers of this blog will know that I have mentioned what I call social cohesion as a key to the way that Germany and its pubs operate.  So it is interesting to note, that in rural Spain at least, that same kind of togetherness dominates drinking proceedings, albeit in a rather different way. I've been in Spain you see. Rural Spain actually, so I won't be telling you about all the exotic beers I have been drinking because, well, there weren't any. Sorry about that. You'll have to make do with some observations and dodgy conclusions instead; not about beer, but about drinking beer, or anything else alcoholic for that matter, in a different environment entirely.

Alhama de Granada
is a small town in spectacular mountainous country not that far from Granada. It really is rather lovely. There are no pubs exactly; rather a set of bars and restaurants that act in much the same way. Two weeks there and a touch of observation told us that "locals" operate much as they do here. The indigenous drinkers all have their favourites and are rarely seen frequenting other bars. Drinking at least in the early part of the day and after work is a male dominated pastime, with small glasses of beer seeming to be a background to social intercourse, rather than the point of the visit. Early morning drinking - well say ten o'clock onwards - is seen as normal though there was some old soaks getting stuck into the booze - brandies and red wine/lemonade mixes were popular - and one bar in particular reminded me of a Wetherspoons - not in size, but in the dedication of its early morning topers. They even seemed to hang about outside there, somewhat forlornly, on the rest day when the bar was closed.

In the outside areas frequented more by families, a request for a beer would result, more often than not, in a small glass of beer (0.2l. These are sipped very slowly by locals and we soon "got it" and surprised ourselves by making these tiny measures last a half hour or so. It just would have somehow seemed wrong to gulp and order repeatedly, particularly as each came with a small snack or tapa. The behaviour of others did indeed change our behaviour, which would seem to give some credence to the positive effect of nurture over nature.

The inclusive thing was most noticeable at night.   Now of course, I don't doubt that late night boozing in the cities is an entirely different kettle of calamares, but in the sticks, teenagers happily mixed with grannies and grandads, mums, dads, aunties and uncles. They seemed content and at ease, chatting away and we didn't see a sullen face at all. Even the local travelling fair seemed to bring out whole families, who would meet friends, but always remain together. Shared snacks were the norm, with even young children happily eating whatever the adults were having. Mixed groups of young men and women sat happily yakking away (at top volume - well they are Spanish after all) with no real drinking going on. It all made for an utterly relaxing and sober atmosphere, though at night we could revert to type over wine with dinner. There was a choice of beer, depending on where you went, of Mahou, Alhambra or Cruzcampo. Only the Cruzcampo had anything you'd describe as character, but even that was pretty ordinary. It didn't matter though. The place and the time were what mattered. The booze was background.

It was a timely reminder that beer should be, at least some of the time, an accompaniment to fun rather than the fun itself. Not a bad reminder either I'd suggest. The real fun was in people watching. 

At no time did I feel like a frustrated drunk. Of course, I tanked up before I went out. Think I went native altogether?


RedNev said...

I'd go further: beer should be the adjunct to your fun pretty well all of the time. I get bored wandering around pubs on my own, even when I'm faced with a great selection of beers. But with a friend or two, it's entirely different, and of course I go to music events in pubs too. That doesn't mean the beer doesn't matter, because it does. But I cannot see beer drinking as a solitary occupation. No criticism of those who do - it's simply not for me, nor for most people I know.

Tandleman said...

I sort of agree, but my point wasn't about lone drinking which has been discussed extensively elsewhere, but about how people behave and drink and what influences it.

As well as an observation on beer snobbery and elevating beer into an end in itself.

Mark Schweitzer said...

Well observed, and this is exactly the type of post I enjoy reading.

Wading through various sites and blogs, so many seem to do little but rate beers or highlight the upcoming tap of some new, strangly-named craft brew. I just came across your site, and it's a welcome departure from the normal fare.

I have had memorable experiences in nice bars and in "dive" bars...most of the time they involved imbibing a fair amount of beer that was not always of the best quality. It mattered little at the time; the primary thing was the atmosphere, the conversation - and always - the people watching.

As for drinking alone -- when traveling, I've often been forced to do this, at least until I could strike up a conversation with a stranger. Better yet if it was an attractive stranger, though I would happily entertain dialogue with a toothless ditch-digger if I thought he might have something interesting to say. Good conversation can make any beer taste better, I have found.

Tandleman said...

Mark - Thanks. Very much appreciated. I have always tried to cover much more than beer tasting notes and the latest hop bomb. It is more interesting to me as a writer too. Regrettably it hasn't generated much by way of comment, but yours makes up for that.

Thanks for dropping in and good luck with the attractive strangers!

Saveur Bière said...

Mmmmmmhhhhhhh !