have four children, 3 were born in the States the youngest in Spain. We live in Spain but we are presently vacationing at our farm in Southampton, Long Island. My older kids are now 17, 14 and 13 the youngest is a baby. Today the older ones ended their vacations in the Hamptons. Unfortunately they could not wait to go back to Europe. There are many things they like about NYC and the Hamptons but overall they prefer Europe for one reason. They feel freer there. Freer to party which is what they like to do. Especially my 17 year old girl. She made me realize that in the States people her age are treated like potential criminals. In Spain, when school is over, my eldest daughter parties a lot with her friends, they go clubbing until 5am in the morning, they are all great students and in my view, once they excel at school they earned their freedom to party. In theory Spanish clubs should check that they are 18 but at 17 they do not. And yes there are many teenagers who drink hard in Spain. But with alcohol freely available in supermarkets they learn over time to drink in moderation. I have yet to meet a single adult in Spain with a serious alcohol problem (they clearly exist but I have not met them instead 3 of my American friends are recovering alcoholics). In Spain kids start drinking at 15 and driving at 18. By then most have learned something about getting drunk and the effects of alcohol and have less accidents on the average than in the States. In the States the opposite is true, they can legally drive at 16 and drink at 21. This leaves kids with a lack of a drinking education, an education that is only acquired after they drive at a huge cost (in America teens make 7% of the drivers but 20% of the fatalities, USA is now one of the most dangerous of the OECD countries in which to drive). Why is that? My theory is that something akin to “alcohol immunization” takes place in Europe. When alcohol is freely available to teenagers they experiment, they drink, they get drunk a few times, they get immunized. But in the States, with alcohol, so hard to get to the point that a person may be considered fit to die in Iraq but not to drink a beer, people don´t get properly exposed to alcohol at the right time. In Spain instead my kids go out, experiment drinking before they drive. And in the meantime they have a lot of fun, and don´t feel excluded from the adult world and come home…in a bus.

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Nick on July 30, 2007  · 

Do you really mean that it is normal to let your children get back at 5am, after being drinking all night? Does her mom agree?

And, after a long night clubbing they can also take their boyfriends/girlfriends home to sleep with them, if they have been dating for more than one year, right?

Is there any discipline/morality at your your place, Martin?

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Max Navarro on July 30, 2007  · 

Not in all Europe it is the same, Martin. What you describe is a typical situation in the South. In the North , the alcohol culture is quite different, and the relation of youth and alcohol is different too.


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Tommaso on July 30, 2007  · 

Dear Martin,

in Spain kids test drugs really young (13-15 years): tobacco, alcohol, marihuana and cannabis and……..cocaine and pills. As per last reports the situation is thogh: the highest cocaine consumption world wide among the youth. I got 4, from 15 to 2 and i’m freightened a bit, it seems to me that there is a hudge confusion between freedom and permissivism (not shure if its the correct word, hope you can understand me). As parents we love freedom our kids are experimenting, but we also have to educate on drugs. They are not part of freedom, but of choices.
I cant agree with you, “drugs (alcohol included) immunisation” is not taking place in Europe.


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Max Navarro on July 30, 2007  · 


In Spain, partying and long nights is part of the culture. It is usual children join the parents in family parties that end very late – say 3-4 in the morning.

In general, it is considered a better control on the youth can be exercised from the knowledge and advice. Anyway, if they want to do wild things, they can do it any time of the day, and they will not come to you easily in case of troubles.

This way, you learn what is going on sooner, and could advise or take action. At the same time, this will make them feel responsible, and allow them to grow up and mature.

Does it work? I think so.


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Martin Varsavsky on July 30, 2007  · 

Nick, when I was 15 I was travelling alone and went hitchiking and on buses from Buenos Aires to Salvador, 5000km.

When I was 17 I crossed USA in a Greyhound bus alone from San Fran to NYC going to the Grand Canyon, everywhere.

My children are extremely moral, happy kids who do very well at school, who practically don´t drink even if they can, who are exposed to drugs very frequently but don´t take them. And this is exactly what happened to me. I was exposed to sex, drugs and alcohol since I was 13. I went for sex at 15, and drugs and alcohol never. I have not smoked a single cigarette in my life. In Spain it is legal to do drugs and I don´t do them, I don´t care about them. I am only sorry about the harm they do to people. But I prefer that my kids be immunized as I said. If they get drunk a couple of times and have a horrible time, that´s bad, but they learn. Drinking is everywhere, I prefer that they learn to drink in moderation than not allow them to drink at all.

Martin Varsavsky on July 30, 2007  · 


I agree, I am biased towards Southern Europe which is my experience. My 14 year old daughter went to Ireland this summer and was very dissappointed about how boys and girls her age drunk. My kids love to party in the Spanish sense, they love to sing, dance, play guitar, to have a good time, not to get wasted.

Martin Vives on July 30, 2007  · 

This is a quite interesting paradox Martin. When I was 16 and studied in California for one year, I wrote a paper about drinking age in Spain (back then it was 16) and US (21).

And my conclusion where very similars to yours. As kids are able to drink, they become more mature alcohol drinkers. In the US it was not allowed to drink until 21, when you can die for your country with 18. But you can drive with only 16.

And the fact is that is much easier to buy alcohol when you are not supposed to do so than driving when you are not supposed to do so. And its proven that the mix of both is the really dangerous thing. And in the american way is much easier to combine this two things in my opinion. And the big difference between american car’s average HP and Europe’s is also to be taken into account when we talk about road death statistics.

In the US it was almost impossible to get spirits maybe, or strong alochol like Vodka, Whiskey and so on… But you just have to drive to the next town and get as much beer as you wanted in some 7/11 stores, with clerks only pretending to check your ID out. And of course everyone using what-ya-callit vaporizers to pass alcohol tests during the typical friday-night-party police raid.

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ENap on July 31, 2007  · 

This is kind of like comparing apples to oranges. These are two very different cultures with very different realities. When I was 17, I used to think the same thing, that Americans needed to learn to drink before they needed to learn to drive. Raising the driving age definitely doesn’t solve the problem (it creates more), so maybe we should lower the drinking age to 14.

Seriously, though, during the 80s, most states increased the drinking age from 18 to 21 until finally all of them following suit. Studies showed that by increasing the drinking age to 21, the number of traffic fatalities decreased significantly. Because the drinking age is a question of state law (and not federal law), the federal government gave special highway funding to any states that would increase the drinking age to 21. And eventually, all states followed.

Increasing the driving age to 18 or higher is not a solution in the States. It puts a huge burden on working parents. And if partying is part of the popular Spanish culture, driving is part of the American culture. Also because of distances, driving is essential to a person’s social and economic life. The car has always been a popular symbol of freedom and emancipation for American youth. The car was a way for kids to feel independent from their parents. The same is true of partying for Spanish kids. Imagine in Madrid, families living together in small cramped apartments where they have little privacy. Going out late at night is a way for this kids to feel free and independent from their parents.

In Spain, youth alcohol and drug consumption are actually a much bigger problem than people are willing to discuss. Furthermore, drinking and driving is incredibly common. My guess is that the majority of motorists on a Friday or Saturday evening in Madrid have blood alcohol limits that surpass the legal limits. Everyone I know in Spain drinks and drives. I have even taken taxis on a handful of occasions where I have noticed the driver to be inebriated. Truck and bus drivers stop at the highway rest area bars for a quick beer or carajillo. This is all considered socially acceptable practice.

I am sure you remember in the States, also starting in the 80s, the huge campaigns similar to the Fonero Promise, where people pledged not drink and drive. “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”. This has worked fairly well in the US and the concept of the “designated driver” is the norm when friends go out drinking together. In Spain, there is no such thing. In the US, your friends won’t let you drive home if you’ve been drinking. That simple. Think about it. You have friends for dinner in the States and the driver doesn’t drink. In Spain, you have friends for dinner, and everyone drinks (and probably more) and stays later and then either drives home.

Probably the most likely reason that the US has a greater fatality rate is because you have more people on the roads. Spanish kids and adults don’t need to take their car on a night out. They can use public transportation or cabs. These really aren’t common in the States, except for maybe NYC. In Spain, you can still find young adults without a driver’s license. The car in Spain is not a necessity.

The US does, though, have a problem with consistency and logic. Why can I go to war, buy a gun, and be trusted to vote at 18, but I am not responsible enough to drink until 21? Comparing this, though, with Spain’s very different culture doesn’t quite follow. Taking away the car in the States is like taking away the marcha away from a Spaniard. The good thing is that Spanish kids can’t drive until they are 18 and that they really don’t need to even until they are older. The problem with the States is that there are not very many alternatives to driving at nightime for teenagers.

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Arthur Gallanter on August 1, 2007  · 


I wanted you to know that I agree with your “alcohol immunization” theory. However, I believe that all your kids know about alcohol moderation and drunk driving more because of your role as a parent rather than just the accepting culture they live in.

I cannot speak for Northern or Southern Europe, but I can speak for the United States and address the problems that I constantly witness. I have been cultured or “immunized” with alcohol for a very long time. My father is a chef and my mom is Italian so alcohol was in our everyday lives. I was always offered wine at dinner, a beer while watching sports, etc. I do not view alcohol as something to take advantage of so that I can get really trashed with my friends. I feel I have been taught this by a few bad experiences but mostly from my parents.

I believe alcohol abuse is not because of the age when teens in the U.S. are exposed but more from the culture of this country, their parents, and for it being illegal. Teens are introduced to alcohol when they first arrive into high school. In every high school house party there is drinking and that is a fact. For many people, this is the first time they experienced alcohol. They love it. All their friends are doing it. Why shouldn’t they? The problem isn’t that teenagers do not experience it enough. The problem is that they were never taught about morals and drinking in moderation by their parents. Instead every time some waiter offers a kid some wine, one of their parents grabs the glass, pulls it away, and explains that “we don’t let our kids drink in our family”. Now you will find that there are many parents in the U.S. you would love to strangle. These are one of them. That kid is now the one who is getting so drunk that he falls out of my friends window during a party, breaking his legs and jaw; just because he was never taught about alcohol moderation. Kids are so locked up on their parents keeping alcohol from them that they actually abuse more just because they do not know when the next time they are going to be able to get a drink.

This is already long so I am going to quickly approach drunk driving. Here is a very interesting way to look at the fatalities of drunk driving in the U.S. Did you know that if you loaded a Boeing 737 with teenagers, and if one crashed every two weeks for a whole year, that would be equivalent to the drunken driving deaths by teenagers? Now in the news, if a Boeing 737 was going down every two weeks there would be uproar and the government would be forced to act. However, people are oblivious to these things since every casualty happens in different towns, cities, and states. Who does this affect? No one is affected besides close relatives, friends, and communities. A person will be watching the news at dinner, see one of the car crashes, and say “Oh god. That’s terrible. But this pizza is really good.” Maybe it won’t be that radical but the point is they care for about five seconds and then forget about it. I am not saying everyone in U.S. is like this because I have been exposed to a very good life and I have met some of the most interesting people who are great parents. However there is no one who is taking the reigns of the horse and doing something about it. With most cases, who do I blame?

I will look you confidently in the eyes and say “parents”. My mom told me about driving and drinking. She really addressed it to me when I was about fifteen years old. I made a promise to her that I would never drink and drive or get in a car with a drunk driver. Ever since that promise, I will not have anything to drink that is alcoholic if I know I am driving later that night. I take pride that I believe I am a natural driver. When people get into situations where they tense up, I am relaxed and I will admit I do love driving fast. However, most teens if not roughly all are inexperienced drivers who let distractions affect the way they drive. Talking on the cell phone, sending text messages, and drinking are all recipes for disaster. This is the reason why there are so many deaths. Maybe teens will learn from a bad experience from which they were lucky enough to have lived to tell the tale. But who wants that? A parent is better than a bad experience.

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Julian on August 2, 2007  · 

Martin, it’s really odd what happened with this post. On your spanish version there are a lot of answers but they really started discussed things not related with the post.

As i told you in the spanish version, I don’t agree on what you say. The stadistics can show how in countries like Argentina where people “can” drive and drink and there is no control at all, we have a lot of fatal accidents.
I personally know people who have died on car accidents and also kill people. i know people who were like not to die.
i also know really intelligent people good at school and with a good family fall into drugs and alcohol in a way that affect their lifes.

I don’t know how it is in span, but if i compare the states (where I am this work) with Argentina (where I live) I really think cars and alcohol are better managed in US.

One more thing to mention is that in Argentina there are more people dying, even with the average argentinean driving slower (compare BS AS rodas with most of the roads in US)

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Martin Varsavsky on August 6, 2007  · 

Julian, what I am trying to say is that drinking is so dangerous that people should learn how to drink in moderation before they learn how to drive and in USA the opposite is true.

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Rebeca on August 14, 2007  · 

Hello all,

I am quite surprised about the opinions of many anglo-saxon people who don’t know the Spanish society at all. I have never been to the States, but many of my friends are Anglo-saxons, and I can say that Mediterranean culture and the Northern Europe one are quite different.

First at all, in Spain moderation has traditionally been very important. Many people drink everyday while they’re having lunch or talking with friends -a cup of wine or a glass of beer, for example. But very few people get drunk. This is ridiculous and very unpleasant to the average Spanish.

In Anglo-saxon culture, people cannot drink everyday because alcohol is too much expensive for them and there’s a huge restrictive policy about it. So they reserve a special day to get smashed with friends. It’s an exception and they exceed a lot, so they do not appreciate the smell or the flavour of a good wine.

The Spanish issue is NOT to get drunk everyday. Otherwise, Spanish youth is getting “anglo-saxonized” while they do not lose their Mediterranean custom: they drink everyday until they’re out, because alcohol is cheap and because drinking frequently is traditional. The Botellon is a good reflect of this evolution. I think this mixture is not good for us and I personally prefer the Spanish way of drinking, but the Anglo-saxon is not so bad if you don’t do it every week-end.

Please, do not think of Spaniards as alcoholic people who get drunk everyday. This is completely contrary to our culture. Here the quality is much more important than the quantity.

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