Madrid gives Americans a taste of home


Courtesy of Kalee Gottsacker

“Born in the USA” booms over the loudspeakers. Students shout to the bartender, “Two vodka cranberries and kettle chips, please!” The Seahawks vs. Packers game is displayed on TVs mounted to the wall. Flyers with specials for one-euro shots, two-euro sangria and three-euro cocktails cover the tables.  This is The Dubliner, a bar in the middle of Madrid, Spain.

Courtesy of Kalee Gottsacker
Courtesy of Kalee Gottsacker

Every year, hundreds of American exchange students travel to countries, in Europe and across the world, for their study abroad programs. Cultural immersion and a broadened worldview are key benefits for the students who explore a different part of the world for a few months. Saint Louis University’s campus in Madrid is no exception.

About 50 percent of the students there come from SLU’s main campus; 20 percent come from Spain, and 30 percent are from various other countries.

While school and coursework are an essential part of the experience, students also spend their free time traveling and going out. The nightlife in Madrid is infamous among students, as they take advantage of being older than the legal drinking age.  Club and bar promoters often stand outside of the campus gates, passing out flyers and coupons, trying to lure in students with their drink specials.

There is a fierce competition between promoters to attract the crowds; their livelihood rests on selling their bar or club better than the others. Many wait outside the metro station in Sol- a large city full of shops, restaurants and bars- and scramble over each other to get their target’s attention. Shouts of, “Free mojitos,” “free shots with your first round of drinks” and “free entrance if you come with me!” echo across the plaza. Often, they’re ignored and move onto the next person, but occasionally the promoters are successful and lead their patrons through the streets to the promised location.

SLU sophomore Maddie Meyer says that she can’t walk “even 25 yards without being approached by a promoter. They’re not mean or anything, they just really want us to go their places. We’ve made it a kind of game, hearing all the offers and then picking the best one.”

Deals like euro-shot night, beer pong tournaments and discounted cocktails are popular among the bars seeking American customers. Michaela Smith, who attends SLU and is studying abroad for the semester in Madrid, describes how “the bars give free drinks, and there are some Irish bars like the ones we have back home. They play American music, and there’s a lot of dancing and different beer game tournaments.”

Marta Rico Bofill, a SLU Madrid student who has lived in Spain for 19 years, says that she thinks these places “just naturally attract Americans. There’s also PR at SLU, like Erasmus, to make everyone aware of events all the time.”

While most students appreciate the bars catering to their interests, locals have mixed emotions about the American presence in Madrid’s nightlife. Current student Jennifer Zuili has lived in Spain for five years and who says that she and her friends don’t go to the Americanized places at all.

“People aren’t very responsive to the American bars unless they are Americans,” she said.

“My friends for the most part have the same views as me, but they don’t mind going every once in a while.”

On the other hand, Maria Martín, a 48-year-old host mother for SLU Madrid students, says that she likes the American bars. “They’re very fun, and you get to dance a lot. I definitely like American bars better than Spanish clubs at least.”

Although the various opinions might be a result of generational differences, there’s no denying the stigmas that come with American party culture. Bofill laughs as she compares the American way of “doing whatever you want, going wild and getting wasted,” to the calmer Madrid persona. “The atmosphere is completely different. In Madrid, you talk about politics or futbol, and have a beer. We criticize a lot and talk about different Spanish communities. In American bars, I feel like they don’t talk about politics and different ideologies… they just want to have fun.”

Smith lists “getting too drunk because we have a bad drinking age, binge drinking and loud music” as characteristics of American parties. “But it’s portrayed to the extreme in the media so people feel like they need to party to that level, too, and it’s not realistic or safe. Here, I definitely get that they [the bars] are trying to play to that side of it all.”

Although bar and club attendees may differ in their preferences, both Americans and Spaniards find comfort in familiarity. Bofill thinks that study abroad students “like the feeling of being home, and that’s the feeling you get at places like ‘Kapital’ or ‘Dubliner,’” citing two frequent spots for study abroad students.

Meyer and Smith both voiced appreciation for the American drinks and food offered at these places, saying that it’s one less thing that’s completely foreign to them.

Similarly, Zuili says that she likes the Spanish bar scene better because she knows the people in them. Bofill concurs, “If you go to a Spanish bar you’ll see everyone from Spain. It’s very closed.”

Although some Spaniards show distaste for the American party culture, the two cultures are not at odds. “I think it’s cool because those places are different, but I just prefer Spanish places,” says Bofill.

Smith wonders, “Why would native Spanish people hate it? We give them all our money for drinks and food and stuff, so ultimately they benefit.”

As Madrid’s nightlife continues to adapt and change, the American exchange students will continue to be a part of it. Whether the students defy the norm and try more authentic Spanish places, or make the American bars their go-to spots, both natives and foreigners come together at night to make Madrid the lively, colorful city that it is.

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