Monday, October 24, 2005


Spanish bartenders don’t tolerate age discrimination. They’ll serve alcohol to any patron—no matter how youthful-looking—who can establish his maturity via the following quiz:

BRIGHT-EYED PATRON: Bartender! Gimme a beer.

BARTENDER (leaning forward on one elbow): Do you intend to drink it from a glass? Or from a human nipple?

PATRON: Uhhh…from a glass.

BARTENDER (slapping the countertop): OK! Here’s your beer.

Of course, I’m exaggerating a bit. Spain has a minimum drinking age which, I’m fairly certain, is somewhere in the two-digits. And I’ve no doubt that most bartenders observe it conscientiously. But I’m still taken aback each time I discover that the person on the next bar-stool and I share a special affinity for the year 1985 (i.e., I completed my last semester of high school; he completed his last trimester of fetal development).

How could I not be taken aback? I come from a country that goes to the other extreme. In the US, one’s first legal sip of beer (at age 21!) often coincides with the sprouting of one’s first gray whisker. I had forgotten about this absurdity until last month, when I returned to the US for my first visit in nearly two years.

I was in a “gourmet” (i.e., overpriced) hamburger joint and ordered a pint of Bass® ale. The pimply-faced waitress asked to see proof of my age. Now, I’m a 38 years old. And if you’ve looked at my profile photo, it’s quite apparent. But I’m also familiar with the US’s inflexibility in these matters (and, in fact, spent most of my adolescent years finding ways around it), so I handed her my Spanish residency card—i.e., the only ID that I had in my wallet.

She held it at arm’s-length between her thumb and forefinger—in much the same way that a 7 year old from Tennessee might gawk at his first escargot in a French bistro—and said, “This isn’t an Illinois driver’s license.”

“I know. That’s because I don’t live in Illinois.”

“Ummmm...I need to, like, ask my manager. We usually don’t accept out-of-state ID’s.”

“But…but…the nipples! I won’t use nipples!”

Ten minutes later, the manager came to our table, took a brief look at the craggy, hairless relic that is my cranium, and said, “OK. We’ll get you that beer.”

Incredible, isn’t it? In this light, Spain’s relaxed attitude toward serving alcohol seems sensible. I’d imagine that there are some Spanish teens reading this essay and thinking, “Perhaps that study abroad program isn’t such a good idea, after all.”

The people I feel most sorry for, however, are US soldiers. They can be sent to war at age 18…but can’t legally drink until they’re 21. That’s not just illogical; it’s cruel! Why cruel? Because if I were being sent into a battlefield, I’d want to be as rip-snortin’ drunk as humanly possible.

Fortunately for our troops, I think I’ve found a loophole. An 18 year old soldier can’t drink a beer while stationed in the US, but what if the war was on foreign soil? Say, a country that does allow 18 year olds to drink. That would be OK, wouldn’t it?!

Of course, the existence of this loophole makes me happy that there are no US military generals under the age of 21. If there were, they might be tempted to invade Spain for this very reason.


At 11:15 PM, Blogger Angie said...

My brother (20 years old) is in the Army National Guard, and he's of the firm belief that if he can "save the world," he should be able to drink his beer, dammit. He looks about 25, so he gets away with it often. A couple Sundays ago, my boyfriend and I went down to Indianapolis to see my brother at college, and after Mass, we went out for lunch. Little brother said, "Watch this -- I won't get carded." Not wanting to be party to a crime, I had my doubts. He gave the waitress his most charming smile and ordered a Guinness. Voila... Guinness delivered, no questions asked.

Saturday night, boyfriend and I were at a local dive to meet up with some friends. Though only 25, the boyfriend's hairline has retreated a bit and now looks much like yours. (He'd pass for 30, easy.) He orders a drink -- Waitress asks, "Can I see some ID?" No rhyme or reason to it.

At 12:00 AM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

"Though only 25, the boyfriend's hairline has retreated a bit and now looks much like yours."

Christ! What a charmer you are, Angie!

At 6:17 AM, Blogger Franje said...

But does Angie's boyfriend have calves like yours?

At 7:11 AM, Anonymous Kick Shoe said...

I was lucky. Back in the dark ages when I went to college just across the border from Idaho, the drinking age there was 19. I turned 19 in the fall of my freshman year. We had a good time. Yoda!!

At 12:36 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Franje: I've never seen Angie's boyfriend's calves, but I'm sure they are quite nice. I'm sure yours are, too. In fact, everybody has nice calves...except, perhaps, Joan Rivers.

Kick Shoe Kathy: I had a similar stroke of luck. My undergrad university (Northern Illinois U) was an hour or so from Wisconsin. Wisconsin raised its drinking age from 19 to 21 around the time I was at NIU, but they left a grandfather clause allowing people born before 1968 to continue drinking under the former 19 year old minimum. I was born in 1967...heh heh heh.

To make things even better, I went to London five months before my 21st birthday, and didn't come back until two months after my birthday.

In fact, I turned 21 while in Amsterdam. And no...that's a story I'm NOT going to tell. case anybody is wondering, I really love this Mac!


At 5:30 PM, Blogger Angie said...

Don't get me wrong, I like his hairline... both of your hairlines!

And his calves are quite nice, thanks very much.

Now that I've apologized for the hairline comment, will you tell us the Amsterdam story? Pleeeease? ;)

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

No sweat, Ang. Quite honestly, I'm happy to learn that some guys with my hairline still manage to get chicks.

Amsterdam? Well...let's just say that if Bill Clinton were in my shoes, he'd point out that he didn't break any laws in Amsterdam.

That narrows it down to one of two things. If you guessed the one that doesn't involve chicks, you'd be correct.

Sal (who, with this Comment, just ruined any chance of ever winning political office)

At 9:29 PM, Blogger rws said...

You know, I've spent a lot of the last 5+ years in Madrid, and I've never seen a bartender give a bottle that big to anyone that small.

Could be I'm not patronizing the right establishments.

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Jo said...

Interesting that you bring up the point of being old enough to die for your country in battle but not old enough to drink alcohol. That takes me clear back to what appeared to be a major complaint of many young people back in the early sixties as they were heading our for Vietnam. ::smiles grimly:: What do you expect in a country where one can barely maintain a straight face and speak in a normal tone of voice regarding human genetalia? It's unfortunate in the extreme that we do not have sufficiently intellectual leadership (political, religious, and otherwise) to rethink such things.


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