Different laws, different customs

In Spain we are fortunate with the relaxed licensing laws. Most first-time foreign visitors are surprised that alcoholic drinks are available so freely and that any grocery store is permitted to sell everything from beer to brandy. This lenient attitude is due to the fact that Spaniards, unlike many northern Europeans, do not normally drink to get inebriated, and all alcohol consumption is treated even-handedly by lawmakers. When you tell someone that in Sweden, for example, booze has to be bought from the State monopoly at inflated prices, they are dumbfounded.

Another thing that surprises non-Spaniards is the vast amount of media time given over to gastronomic issues. Listen to Onda Cero's nationally-broadcast morning chat show, or Cope's, and hardly a day passes without a conversation about food and wine. Many programmes feature listeners calling in with anecdotes and recipes. Conversely the Today programme on Britain's BBC, or its equivalent in any country, including local radio, sticks to a rigid diet limited almost exclusively to politics and culture.

Oddly, for decades British cuisine was rated as the world's worst. Spanish was a mere roll-up paper below it. Now both are world champions with media famous chefs and restaurants.

Even the pandemic has not cooled gastronomic ardour. Hardly any of the Coast's restaurants have closed, and Madrid has seen ten significant new restaurant openings in the last few weeks. All establishments have to close their doors earlier, with the result that Spaniards no longer making 10pm bookings for dinner.