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Wine is not Alcohol. Patterns of Socialization and Wine and Alcohol Consumption among Children and Youngsters in the Basque Diaspora

F.Xavier Medina

Abstract

Alcohol consumption, as an integral part of the wider frame of food practices, is also a social manifestation. It is the aim of this paper to analyze the role of wine as a drink and as a social element in the Basque diaspora. Emphasis will be put on the values attached to its consumption as a drink, by children and youths, and on its social function.

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Introduction

1As an integrating part of the general frame of food behaviour patterns, alcohol consumption has, no doubt, an outstanding social significance.

  • 1  See, in this respect, the contributions in Douglas (1989); Heath’s pioneering revision on the deve (...)

2A wide number of varying factors and beliefs are closely linked to a social and moral construction about alcohol, and to the specific transmission of the values which are created and developed around it1.

  • 2  The subject of this article takes part of the field research (1988-1999) for my Ph D thesis (Medin (...)

3This paper intends to analyse the role of wine as foodstuff and as an instrument of social relations and socialization in the Basque Diaspora. Special attention will be paid to the Basque people who live in the city of Barcelona (Spain) and, more specifically, to social conditioning and popular opinion about alcohol consumption on the part of children and youngsters2.

4Through emigration, the emigrants’ behavioural patterns adjust to a new environment; sometimes they must take out certain rituals, due to the lack of infrastructures on the site of residence. However, certain values attached to specific foodstuffs – as is the case of wine – maintain a remarkable importance in the individual’s scale of values. On one hand, wine appears to be, in the mind of the analysed subjects, as nutritious and calorific, and even therapeutic food. On the other, it is clearly an important instrument for the promotion of social relationships between the members of the group.

Basque emigration in the city of Barcelona. Introductory notes

5In spite of the fact that the Basque group living in Barcelona is not a typical model of economy/work grounded emigration, it provides an interesting perspective over a group of emigrants who have settled down within an urban environment. These people have re-shaped their ethnic individuality according to the socio-cultural characteristics rebuilt after the emigration, as well as to the new territory in which they set up home, eventually converted into their own.

6Among the characterisation of this group, it is worth noticing that it is relatively small (slightly more than 8.000 people), if compared to other groups of Spanish immigrants residing in Barcelona such as the Andalusian (more than 60.000 people), the Aragonese (more than 70.000) and the Galitian (45.000) (cf. Padró d’habitants de la ciutat de Barcelona, 1988).

7Barcelona, capital of Catalonya – one of the most outstanding industrial regions in Southern Europe – has been the goal of migratory flows since the second half of the 19th century and during the whole of the 20th century, especially between the 1950s and the 1980s. However, the arrival of the Basque people in Barcelona did not coincide with the big migratory movement that took place in Spain due to working/economic reasons. The largest amount of emigrants from the Basque Country arrived in the city in the period stretching from 1935 to 1940, which coincides with the dates of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). An important number of Basque people left their birthplace for reasons which were closely connected to the war.

8A second important period of Basque emigration to Barcelona was the decade 1971-1980. Although traditional emigration due to economic/working factors decreased notably, it was in this period that a new contingent of people decided to leave the Basque Country and go to Barcelona in search of a better job and of higher economic profits.

9This is the case of a number of Basque managers, companies and banks which have branches in the Catalan capital, as well as of technicians and people which have been relocated to occupy middle positions within the firms in the Catalan territory.

10As previously explained, through a detailed study of the Basque group, we can pinpoint the behavioural patterns of these emigrants within an urban frame in which they reconstruct their daily routine and, in so doing, re-define their ethnic peculiarities. Aspects like those linked to food consumption may be, in this respect, illuminating.

Food consumption, identity and emigration

11As I have said elsewhere (Medina, 1997a), eating as a social fact is converted into an instrument within the field of collective identity in the diaspora and, at the same time, into one of the symbolic frontiers to be taken into account between groups which are in contact. Eating is turned into the evidence of the participation of individuals in a wider sociocultural context. As Igor de Garine argues (1979: 82), it is not by chance that cuisine figures in the first place among the many regional vindications.

12Through the migratory phenomenon, the space unity of the groups is altered, and its members find new needs, new ways of behaving and re-creating their identity.

13Similarly, food practices within the phenomenon of emigration undergo a process of reorganization which affects all levels. Yet, according to our point of view, the food system of migratory groups has its own peculiar dynamics, which at times differs from that of the host-country, in its most basic structural elements.

The Basque group: identity and food

14Food culture has never been underestimated by the Basque group: not only are the Basque people aware of the importance of food in their lives but they are also aware that Basque cuisine is generally assumed to be superior to any other in Spain, which implies a certain degree of ethnocentrism. As Arregui remarks “we usually say, as a joke, that our national sport is ‘feasting’ ” (1988: 307).

15Ramírez Goicoechea has collected from his informants similar humorous statements such as that the Basque national sport is “elbow-lifting” (in reference to the movement necessary to raise the glass and drink), or “glass lifting” (1991).

  • 3 Basque name for the Basque Country.
  • 4 Male, aged 65.

16Both expressions are metaphors of alcohol consumption, more specifically of wine consumption. In a similar way another informant told us that “(...) no doubt about it. If you want to keep Basque people quiet and happy, they must have good food and good wine, otherwise forget about it. For good food they could do anything, and the same is true of wine. People drink a lot in Euskadi3, you know, in my village people say that there are two things that the Basque know better than anybody else: the weather and wine”4.

“Wine is not alcohol”: ethnic and therapeutic beliefs on alcohol consumption

  • 5 Such discourse seems to be still valid nowadays. Gracia (1997: 221) draws attention on the stress S (...)
  • 6 A popular Basque saying runs as follows: “Ardo hunik balin bada ez akhar niri barberik” (“if there (...)

17For centuries, wine – especially red wine – has been regarded in the Iberian peninsula, as healthy and therapeutic. Historian Xavier Castro explains that wine was regarded by folklore not only as vigorous and nutritious, but also as a wholesome produce; so “red wine was thought to make blood. It was absolutely healthy” (1993: 61)5. In the Basque country wine has been widely used in popular medicine as nutritious food and a therapeutic remedy6 (cf. Goicoetxea, 1999: 1094 y ss).

  • 7 The chairman of a well known anti-drug foundation was recently interviewed by a Basque magazine; wh (...)

18Wine is also considered an element of identity in the Basque country. In its definition there is no reference whatsoever to its being a “drug” or a toxic substance on account of its alcoholic gradation, which paradoxically occurs in the case of other drinks7, including beer, whose gradation is much inferior to that of wine (cf. Ramírez Goicoechea, op. cit: 295). This happens because the Basque do not regard toxicity and drug as belonging in their own culture. Wine is a Basque drink, “ours”, and is consumed within the traditional circuits and the ritual of groups of friends.

  • 8 “pillar el punto” (to reach the point) is an expression which defines the euphoric condition preced (...)
  • 9 Male, aged 21

19In this respect, one of our informants has recently commented that “wine is not alcohol. Drinking wine is not drinking. Do you see what I mean? You are just a little tipsy8 Come on, it’s not serious drinking is it? I mean, alcohol and strong stuff like that! Wine is healthy. It doesn’t harm you”9.

Wine as an element of sociability in young people and children from the Basque country: the “txikiteo”

  • 10 See also for Galicia: Castro (1993); for Castilla and León: Roque (1986), Fernández (1999); for la (...)

20There is no doubt that wine for the Basque people – although one might speak in general terms, of the whole of the Iberian peninsula10 – is one of the elements which better help to structure both the rituals of the community such as commensality, and sociability in general. The importance of the stimulating, invigorating and euphorising properties of wine, as well as of its social-relational and religious functions, relegates to the background the fact that wine only marginally meets one’s nutritional needs (Medina, 1996).

21According to Georges Gulle Escuret: “whatever the society in which wine is produced, distributed or consumed, it embodies, both in its definition and use, the predominance of specifically sociocultural values (1988: 63). Drinking in company, in this respect, confirms and corroborates social ties.

22In the Basque Country, the main relational group for young people, outside their homes, is the gang. It is an informal group of friends, mainly male, though nowadays also female, which is structured according to age. The age of the members of the groups stretches from childhood and adolescence to the period previous to marriage, although its activity may continue – as it usually does – along all the individual’s life. As Ramírez Goicoechea points out, what defines the gang as a differential group are its practices, condensed in the activity of the so called txikiteo, that is, the routine bar crawl. It is the daily and reiterative consumption of wine in small quantities or units called txikitos, which the gang, regardless of the number of members participating, drink in a number of bars, following a specific route along the streets of the city (1991: 289-290).

23The circuit follows the pattern set by the members’ routine and its “lack of aim” is take out only apparent. This structured route facilitates the meeting of the gang members at any point of their trajectory. Txikiteo usually takes place in the evening, after work and before dinner, during the week; and in the morning and/or afternoon at weekends, always before lunch or dinner.

  • 11 Although the most common drink of txikiteo is wine – txikitos are small glasses of wine –, it is be (...)
  • 12 A similar statement was collected by Ramírez Goicoechea (op. cit.: 292) from an informant in Errent (...)

24Txikiteo, understood as “ritualised interaction”, enhances sociability – through alcohol and wine11 consumption – in as far as it fosters communication, talk and jokes. As one of our young informants asserted, “If you don’t drink you’re left out. You are not at the same levels as others (...)”12. The consumption of small quantities of wine facilitates the extension of the route and the total or partial repetition of the patterned circuit when this has been completed and all the habitual bars have been visited.

  • 13 Usually male, although recently female gangs have started making their appearance. As Arachu Castro (...)

25In the Basque country, as in almost every part in the North of the Iberian peninsula, txikiteo, that is “going for a wine” (“ir de vinos”), has traditionally served as a means of introduction of the young13 and children into a socioculturally patterned dynamics of sociability.

26The fact that a teenager starts going out with friends, forming a gang with those who are closer to his/her age, turns into a sort of “rite de passage” from childhood to adulthood. Wine is thus converted into a culturally symbolic element actively participating in this transition.

27As Fernández points out, this process works as the initiation of young people to a world of alcohol consumption, far from adult surveillance; young people go out at night, with a group of friends, in a ritual which shows the identification, through imitation, with the adult group (1999: 498). The consumption of alcohol on the part of young people, however, is far from moderate. Basque anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja, already in 1957 wrote that in Vasconia itself, during certain celebrations, one could see young people plunge into a kind of bacchanalian revelry in which the individuals merged with others of their same age losing their personality (1993: 295).

  • 14 A similar case has been described by Jociles (1992: 75) in the neighbouring region of La Rioja, Sou (...)

28As shown so far, the social and cultural values attached to wine in the Basque country place it in an extraordinary position within the frame of social relationship between individuals. In some cases this happens from a very early age, marked by the beginning of adolescence – around the age of 12-1314 – and the process is articulated through the gang.

29Through emigration, however, the need arises for the emigrants to readjust themselves to the new environment they have come to inhabit. In this sense, the new social milieu imposes its own restrictions on certain patterns of behaviour, such as, the very existence of gangs. The group is thus forced to re-formulate and re-create specific patterns within the sociocultural frame. In spite of all, certain values are transmitted through the socialisation of the young people and keep, thus, surviving in the mind of the subjects.

Wine in the Basque diaspora. the case of Barcelona (Spain)

  • 15 Our emphasis

30Wine is as highly valued in the diaspora as it is in the Basque country. A Basque shepherd who emigrated to the U.S.A. at the turn of the century, wrote in a letter to his family that he resented the moral relaxation and excessive love for food – especially for wine – of his compatriots: “Here the Basque people are indeed behaving in a despicable way. If they have plenty of peppers, soup and wine15, they don’t even remember what religion is” (Lhande, 1976).

31Things do not appear to have changed significantly at the end of this century. A Basque-Argentinian from Río Carabelas (South of the province of Buenos Aires), similarly commented: “I summoned them to a meeting. We were going to have a meeting at seven... but nobody turned up. Now, when it comes to eating and drinking and having a good time, there won’t be one missing” (Pérez-Agote et al., 1997: 124).

32With reference to the Basque who reside in the city of Barcelona (Catalonya, Spain), wine is highly estimated by them, both in terms of its intervention in sociability and of its function as food proper, as an identity-defining drink.

  • 16 Male, aged 67.

33In this respect, an informant said that “(...) it is produced in Euskadi together with cyder. What else should we drink? Wine, of course! It’s what we’ve been drinking all life. When I was a little boy my mum gave me bread with wine and sugar as a snack. And very little I was too! We’ve always had wine (...) it’s ours”16.

34Differently from what happens in the Basque country, in Catalonya the system of relationships between children and teenagers is not structured in this way. The dynamics of gangs according to group age and the txikiteo - that is, the patterned consumption of a small quantity of wine along a set route of bars in a specific area – is characterised by alternative strategies.

  • 17 Granjas are places specialising in coffee, chocolate, dairy products, cakes and soft drinks. They a (...)
  • 18 Male, aged 17.

35The most usual pattern, as far as the residence of Basque people in Barcelona is concerned, is that of the integration in the local system of relationships. Yet, the adoption of local patterns is not exempt from frictions: “(...) I am looking forward to having holydays or days off, to leave, go and potear with friends. I’m sick of the bloody granjas17?”here, where you don’t even move. You stay there the whole damned evening!18.

36Another option, however, could be visiting the Basque bars which have been spreading through the city, especially in the area of Ciutat Vella (old city), where the Basque House (Euskal Etxea) is to be found. In this sense, young people – those who feel like it – can follow a route including five or six Basque bars which are very popular and where they can carry out the txikiteo.

  • 19 Male, aged 25.

37“(...) You go out and a have a good time. You can meet your friends, drink wine and have a chat (...) you know! It’s like what we do in Euskadi, isn’t it? I mean, when you’re there with your mates and all that”19.

38Yet, also differently from what happens in the Basque country, in Barcelona it is the less young who gather for the txikiteo, whereas the youngsters follow the local patterns of relationship, since in their age group, usually formed at school, the young people of Basque origin are clearly a minority. Only when they travel or spend their holydays in the Basque country do they practice txikiteo, with the alcohol consumption it implies.

  • 20 Male, aged 14.

39“(...) When I go there, yes, with my friends in the village... But I can’t (laughter) what the hell! One thing is to drink some wine, another is one and more and more... I am already pissed after the third or fourth glass. I’m not used to it. And they tell me things like, you know, ‘you’re like a Catalan’, ‘you can’t hold your drink!’ ”20.

  • 21 He refers to consuming high gradation alcohol: whisky, gin, vodka and so on, especially during the (...)
  • 22 Male, aged 58.

40Wine is a highly valued element among adults, even as far as its consumption on the part of young people is concerned. In this respect, an informant asserted: “(...) now, what with all these drugs and alcohol!21 ... they should drink more wine, it is healthier. And very young they should start too! In order to get used to it!”22.

41The characterisation of wine as “healthy foodstuff” implies, according to popular beliefs, an extension of its “goodness” to childhood: children should start consuming wine at “a very early age”, in order to get used to it.

42Such habit is widely rooted among the members of the analysed group, especially among the older ones. As an above mentioned informant pointed out, more than twenty years ago it was very common to give children bread soaked in red wine and sugar, as a snack. Wine was assumed to be a complementary nutritional and caloric support to the child’s diet. Similarly, it was not uncommon to use sweet wines of medium alcoholic gradation (‘quinas’) as reconstituent remedies, and even in order to “open the children’s appetite”. In a very popular advertisement of the 1970s, a child appeared as an animated character who advertised a well known brand of “quina”. His slogan became very famous all over the country and it ran as follows: “(...) and it gives you such an appetite!”.

Conclusion

43What has been explained so far makes it clear that in the Basque country wine is a recommended foodstuff – of course we are talking of small quantities when it comes to children’s and young people’s complementary diet.

44However, it can be said that in some respects it is traditionally considered in the same light in other parts of Spain, since, as has been mentioned above, bread with wine and sugar has always been consumed in places as far from one another as Catalonia and Andalusia. Furthermore, the “Quina” commercial referred to above, had a national diffusion.

45After the migation however, the behavioural patterns of individuals have been modified according to the sociocultural restrictions imposed by the environment. For example, in relation to the txikiteo, the relational habits of people in Barcelona work differently, in a much more sedentary way and, according to our informants, other kinds of drinks are consumed which are not alcoholic and, in any case, not wine.

46Consequently there are not the necessary infrastructures for the txikiteo to be practiced. As an established act, txikiteo cannot function, in relation to Basque children and youths who reside in Barcelona, in the same way as the ritual established in the Basque country.

47Here, on the one hand, it favours relationships between children and young people with the other individuals of their age group and, on the other, it fosters, through imitation of adult’s habits, an early contact with alcohol consumption through wine, which, in turn, implies its consumption in the future.

48Be it as it may, wine is still highly valued among Basque people, especially among men, since the latter are the main consumers. Wine is regarded as a nutrient and caloric product and the same time it is a relational element exerting a remarkable influence on the enhancement of sociability between individuals belonging to the group.

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Bibliography

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Notes

1  See, in this respect, the contributions in Douglas (1989); Heath’s pioneering revision on the development of anthropological studies on alcohol (1989) published in English between 1970 and 1980, are particularly interesting. For specific reference to wine, Guille-Escuret’s work (1988) is also worth consulting, especially chapter 1-2: “L’aliment du social”.

2  The subject of this article takes part of the field research (1988-1999) for my Ph D thesis (Medina, 2000) about the construction of ethnicity in the Basque diaspora. More than 300 personal interviews have been done among Basque migrants in Catalonia, and particularly in the city of Barcelona.

3 Basque name for the Basque Country.

4 Male, aged 65.

5 Such discourse seems to be still valid nowadays. Gracia (1997: 221) draws attention on the stress Spanish advertisements have put in the last years on the fact that wine is “a national drink, traditional and healthy”. On the other hand, scientific discourses seem to follow a similar direction. According to Lasunción et al. (1996): “moderate and regular ingestion of wine, preferably during meals, is beneficial for the heart, since it provides moderate quantities of ethane and plenty of poliphanes”. Therapeutic beliefs on wine still hold, and they are reinforced by scientific research and discourses.

6 A popular Basque saying runs as follows: “Ardo hunik balin bada ez akhar niri barberik” (“if there is good wine, do not fetch the barber (physician)” (Goicoetxea, 1999: 1098)

7 The chairman of a well known anti-drug foundation was recently interviewed by a Basque magazine; when interrogated about alcohol consumption, the interviewee answered that ‘the vast majority of young people have replaced harmful drugs with alcohol, a substance which has always been there, rooted in our culture” (Interview to Jose A. Pérez Arróspide, chairman of the Foundation Vivir sin drogas, in Consumer, 20. Marzo 1999, p. 12. our emphasis). The interviewee refers here to alcohol in general, including high gradation drinks, which, socially, are considered worse than wine. However, as shall be seen, wine works as an introductory element to the consumption of stronger alcoholic drinks.

8 “pillar el punto” (to reach the point) is an expression which defines the euphoric condition preceding drunkness; a condition which fosters sociability, “good mood” and verbal contact between individuals.

9 Male, aged 21

10 See also for Galicia: Castro (1993); for Castilla and León: Roque (1986), Fernández (1999); for la Rioja: Jociles (1992); for andalucía: Caro Baroja (1993).

11 Although the most common drink of txikiteo is wine – txikitos are small glasses of wine –, it is becoming increasingly usual to consume other kinds of alcoholic drinks such as beer – the so called zuritos –, or cyder, also in such little glasses.

12 A similar statement was collected by Ramírez Goicoechea (op. cit.: 292) from an informant in Errenteria (Guipuzcoa): “I don’t drink and every time I go out with them I find I am not with it, I am left out. If you don’t drink, you don’t relate to other people”.

13 Usually male, although recently female gangs have started making their appearance. As Arachu Castro points out (1999) in his study on La Rioja (bordering on the Basque country and also one of the main producers of the wine consumed there) alcoholic drinks in general – with wine at the head – are preferably consumed by the male population, whereas women consume them in much smaller quantities.

14 A similar case has been described by Jociles (1992: 75) in the neighbouring region of La Rioja, South of the Basque country. Curiosly, as mentioned above, this region boasts of one of the most important wine ”appellation d’origine” in Spain.

15 Our emphasis

16 Male, aged 67.

17 Granjas are places specialising in coffee, chocolate, dairy products, cakes and soft drinks. They are usually visited by customers in the afternoon. Alcoholic drinks are not commonly consumed here.

18 Male, aged 17.

19 Male, aged 25.

20 Male, aged 14.

21 He refers to consuming high gradation alcohol: whisky, gin, vodka and so on, especially during the youngsters’ nightly outings.

22 Male, aged 58.

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References

Electronic reference

F.Xavier Medina, « Wine is not Alcohol. Patterns of Socialization and Wine and Alcohol Consumption among Children and Youngsters in the Basque Diaspora », Anthropology of food [Online], Issue 0 | April 2001, Online since 01 April 2001, connection on 23 March 2017. URL : http://aof.revues.org/1010

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About the author

F.Xavier Medina

Institut Català de la Mediterrània (ICM). Barcelona, EIMAH. Zaragoza

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Licence Creative Commons
Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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