Patatas bravas. Vermouth. Siestas. The restorative powers of Jamon Iberico. Free poured gin. Goldilocks-esque proximity to the equator. One could spend semanas listing the factors that contribute to Spain’s nightlife success. However, the San Sebastian Tourism authorities’ latest Instagram post — a photo taken by local shutterbug Ander Iñigo — has revealed perhaps the greatest influence of all: trust.
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How so? Compare San Sebastian to Sydney, for example, and you’ll see why trust beats expensive light shows or fireworks any night of the week.
About 4.7 million people live in Sydney — an urban metropolis through which 14 million tourists pass each year. San Sebastian, on the other hand, is significantly smaller, with less than a quarter of a million residents (and about 2 million tourists a year).
But guess which one has better nightlife?
Ask any European on holiday in Sydney (or for that matter, any Sydneysider on holiday in Europe) where is best for going out and the answer will likely be the same.
Unless you’re part of the 0.1% of the population privy to Sydney’s warehouse raves, Europe wins every time. And — as San Sebastian’s hilltop Polboriña bar (captured above) and Atari (the city centre establishment pictured below) reveal — this all comes down to trust.
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Free from the ‘roided up bouncers, police patrols and lockout laws, Polboriña (along with San Sebastian’s eclectic mix of pintxos, reggaeton and harborside discotheques) epitomises everything Ben Groundwater, a well-meaning wino (and journalist) once pined for in Traveller: “Europeans get to have nice things… because they don’t mess it up.”
“They get to drink in public because they don’t get rowdy and make a nuisance of themselves. They get to have a freshly poured beer down by the beach because they don’t annoy anyone.”
“They get to grab their wine glass and go and stand in the middle of the town square to chat to friends… They get to drink out of a proper glass when they do this, too, because they’re trusted to act like adults and not break that glass or try to steal it.”
He then adds, “Too many people would take the piss… get drunk and forget to pay, or claim they had less than they did, or just do a runner,” for this to be possible in Australia. While he exaggerates to make his point, if you’re from an over-regulated city like Sydney or Los Angeles; that defensiveness you are starting to feel is as good an indicator as any; the truth hurts.
This brings us to a broader discussion around the everyday freedoms continental Europeans take for granted that us Aussies and Americans find so surprising as to be Instagram-worthy.
“We can’t get naked at the beach because we’re all too puritanical and horrified,” (Traveller).
And it’s not just stripping off: riding bikes without helmets, double parking and enjoying a beer at 11am are all activities many who taste Europe’s lust for freedom would bring back to their hometowns.