For my first month living in Madrid, I stayed with a host family who was incredibly kind, open, and welcoming. I had a very positive experience staying in their home and receiving my first taste of Spanish culture. When I was moving out of the house and into my apartment in the city, they invited me for a “goodbye lunch” in their home, so I was nothing short of grateful and excited. (Also, free food!) It was a bittersweet affair that turned into quite the fiesta.
Spaniards love their extensive lunches with multiple courses and a certain amount of tradition. (Kayleigh, too, loves the multi-course lunches.) Their quaint dining room with the formally-set table served to be a happy atmosphere for me, my host mother and father, their thirty-something daughter, and her husband. As we sat down for the first course, the apertivo, they served me vermuth to be paired with the cheese platter and meatball-type appetizer in front of me. (Kayleigh’s Drink Tally: 1) It was a bitter beverage, not my favorite when compared to other lighter and fruitier forms of traditional Spanish alcohol such as sangria or tinto de verano. But I drank my glass and kept the grimace off my face in an effort to obey the most basic rule of etiquette when having lived with and been hosted by someone: you eat and drink what’s in front of you.
We then moved onto the first course, which was composed of various seafood samplings of which I don’t know the name, but that I do know were delicious. With this, they served white wine to everyone at the table. (Kayleigh’s Drink Tally: 2) We ate, drank, and were merry. The next course, a delicious plate of Spanish jamón with potatoes and vegetables, emerged from the flat’s kitchen with a bottle of Rioja red wine which began pouring rich liquid into my well-used wine glass. (Kayleigh’s Drink Tally: 3)
Alright, at this point in the story, I need to explain one thing. I am, in fact, six feet tall. But that does not mean that I have a high tolerance for these types of circumstances and substances. I am 20 years old and really have not had extensive interest in or experience with drinking culture or the effects of alcohol up to this point, especially coming from a country where it is not yet legal for me to consume alcohol. So as I sat in that Spanish piso surrounded by people who were celebrating my graduation into the real world of Madrid, I realized I was in trouble.
We continue eating and I hardly touched my glass of red wine because of the heat in my cheeks and the fact that I could hear my voice reaching new volumes as I spoke more and more. (I will say that my Spanish ability increased exponentially. A lack of inhibitions can work linguistic wonders.) Then the questioning starts: “¿No te gusta el vino?” I should’ve replied, “No, no. I like the wine. But the streets of Madrid won’t be happy when I’m stumbling home drunk at 3 in the afternoon.” But reluctantly, I nodded and sipped.
At this point, my host mother and her daughter began clearing the table and preparing for dessert, so they disappeared into the kitchen and left me with my host dad and his son-in-law. The son-in-law smiled at me and uttered, “Chupitos!” I swallowed apprehensively. “Shots.”
I shook my head fervently, then had to stop that immediately because things got too dizzy, and denied the offer to move to the world of hard liquor. He insisted a few times but then gave in to my refusal, saying, “Okay, you don’t have to. But you just need to try a little bit of this type of vodka. It’s famous to Spain.” I hadn’t even responded before I was looking more-than-half-filled shot glass in front of me with clear liquid that was sure to knock me off my feet. Before I knew it, the two men were holding their shot glasses high and waiting for me to do the same. Not making the best decision of my life, I lifted mine and poured the liquor into my mouth.
Flames in my throat. Coughing. Watery eyes. Chest on fire. And the two men laughing hysterically and patting me on the back.
The son-in-law turned the bottle to me so I could read the label, and once my eyes focused I read the bold, proud letters: “96% alcohol content.” (Kayleigh’s Drink Total: “No, I feel TOTALLY fine”) They tried to offer me bourbon, but I was convinced that the lining of my throat was dissolving, so that was a firm “no.”
The women returned to the room minutes later and chuckled as they saw the bottle on the table and me with my head resting on the back of my chair while staring at the ceiling. I will make it clear that none of these events were malicious in nature. They all had the exact same amount of alcohol and food that I had, but it was glaringly obvious that I was the one feeling the effects and was not accustomed to the marathon-drinking culture.
We ate some kind of dessert, and the remaining red wine was drained from the bottle and into my glass. (Kayleigh’s Drink Total: “Do you want to see the most popular dance moves from the United States?”) The good thing was that I was laughing and joking and engaging in ways that I normally don’t. The bad thing that I looked at the clock and realized I had a Skype session scheduled to talk with my parents in 45 minutes and I was not in the state to do such a thing.
I went to the bathroom and leaned against the counter (after thinking about just sitting/laying on the floor) as I tried to use my fumbling fingers to text my sister and tell her we need to delay the Skype date by at least an hour, because I would rather not expose my unintended drunkenness to my mom and dad after they let me move to Spain and were still adjusting to trusting their 20-year-old in a foreign country. (Hi Mom… Hi Dad…) She found it humorous but agreed, and wished me a safe way home.
If we’re being honest, I have no clue how long I was in that bathroom. I was just sitting and texting all my friends who know my complete lack of experience with drinking alcohol so I could laugh with them as they discovered the circumstances of my intoxication. But finally, I emerged.
I stumbled through the Spanish words that were needed in order to state that I had to leave because I needed to call my parents very soon, to which my host mom tried to conceal her widening eyes and alarmed tone as she said, “¿Quieres café?” I felt the lopsided smile on my face as I mumbled, “Yeah, coffee would be a good idea…”
This tale ends well, at least. I left minutes later to make my journey to my new apartment, and ended up calling up a few different friends on the way home just to giggle and describe my minimal capacity to navigate Madrid at that moment. But the crisp February afternoon air cleared my head to the point where I could comically describe the story to my parents as they watched my relaxed manner on their computer screen from 4,000 miles away.
I love telling this story, though it is rather embarrassing and arguably unprofessional. Living in Spain has taught me so many things and given me an endless number of new experiences, skills, and stories to tell, but this has to be one of the most humorous. I got drunk in the middle of the day with people who had let me live in their home for four weeks and who had never before offered me alcohol. This story is for those of you who accuse study-abroad students of going to new countries just to party, because I am proving you right. I partied hard with 65-year-olds in a quiet neighborhood of Madrid with expensive wine and traditional Spanish cuisine. I’m sorry for getting so out of control, I’ll try to tone it down.