Beware of Brits Bearing Drinks
The words “Mediterranean beach” have launched a thousand American adolescent male fantasies. We saw brilliant blue water and crisp beaches covered with scores of gently heaving mounds of, um, mounds. Every single European boy was raised on these beaches, drank beer and drove around in a little Italian sports car picking up women with his sexy accent. They were the luckiest boys on earth and we were jealous, so we played with guns in the hope that someday another archduke would be assassinated and we’d get to invade their country.
My friend James and I arrived in the Spanish resort town of Sitges well past physical, if not mental, adolescence. We rented a couple chairs on the beach, with no greater ambition than passing the day in sun-fueled semi-consciousness, reading and going for the occasional walk. Three teenagers sat down a few yards in front of us, a boy and two girls. All three wore obligatory below-the-waist beach apparel, but forgot the top part.
We would have killed for this as adolescents in Stockton, California or Pierre, South Dakota or wherever we grew up. It was rare enough for a girl to talk to us; also forgetting her shirt was hopelessly implausible. Our hypersensitive adolescent senses could have located breasts in a rolled up magazine in a dumpster across the street and the actual presence of breasts would have caused seizures. But this European boy was acting normal and gentlemanly, if such a thing can be said of a teenager. This was an ordinary afternoon for him, to be followed by an early evening cruise in his red Alpha Romeo and a few pints.
But most of the young beach goers were dressed modestly and there wasn’t the mass display of youthful flesh our adolescent minds had invented. The sad truth of the Mediterranean beach is that youth and beauty seem to be synonymous with modesty and shame, which only disappear once one has become middle-aged and German.
I wandered off for a hike along the coast, and when I returned later that afternoon, James announced he’d a met a young British woman on vacation with her boyfriend and we were all going out to dinner. Free of the unbridled lust of teenagers, it was reassuring to know we could enjoy more mature pleasures like good company and a few drinks, and with luck, find our way back to our hotel without vomiting on a law enforcement officer or inadvertently assassinating an archduke.
That evening at the restaurant bar, the boyfriend showed the understandable annoyance of a guy dragged out for an evening with two strange men his girlfriend met on the beach. Nervous energy made our beers disappear a little faster and the next round arrive a little quicker. James and the girlfriend happily chatted away, but the boyfriend and I struggled.
“So, you’re British, eh? Monty Python’s British.” I said, drawing on my extensive knowledge of world history. “I like Monty Python. And the Beatles, too.” I signaled for another beer.
Fortunately, by the time we were seated for dinner we had a lot in common. Wine, for instance. Pour it in our glass and we’d pick it up and drink it. Add more and we’d drink that. The conversation grew more animated and hand-gesture oriented, and I knocked over several wine bottles in quick succession. The waiter quickly replaced each bottle and we completely lost count.
I’d heard about the legendary drinking prowess of the UK and her commonwealth, but nothing fully prepared me for the ease with which our new friends ordered round after round of alcohol. As a matter of national pride we drank everything that was ordered, but we were clearly outclassed. If, instead of rebelling, the American colonists had challenged the British to a drinking competition, we would have lost, and Washington would have crossed the Delaware with his head over the railing. Instead of our coveted system of democratic presidential elections, we’d have some silly system where a father is succeeded by his son.
By 2:00 a.m. we were the only ones left in the restaurant. The British were ready to push on until dawn, but the Americans were defeated. I slithered off the restroom to prepare for the walk home and to verify my identity in the restroom mirror.
When I got back the table was covered with four large Irish coffees. Although at first glance this was a friendly farewell gesture, it was actually a calculated attack designed to guarantee that not only would we be hung over, but we’d have no chance of sleeping it off. We staggered into the night, and the boyfriend and I shared a tender hug normally only shared between men after they’ve come to terms with their masculinity on a wilderness bongo retreat.
The next morning on the train back to Madrid, James and I did not speak. We did not even attempt hand signals. We slipped in and out of consciousness as the Spanish countryside slid past, the hills perky and fertile, gently rising and falling.