Spain, a welcoming country full of vibrant history. Home to over 44 million, this population has a certain way how they go about their day. A little pre-trip research always goes a long way. Here are some things to know about Spain's culture and etiquette before your next trip:
The main language that you hear depends greatly upon what region of Spain that you visit. Though Spanish is the “official language” of the country, language varies from North to South. For instance, in Catalonia, you will mostly hear Catalan; in Galicia, you’ll hear Gallego; and in Valencia, Valenciano. However, most of the country does speak and understand Spanish at a respectable level. Wherever you may be going, it is always recommended to brush up on some of the local language to help ease your travel. No need to become completely fluent overnight! Yet, it’s recommended that you practice key, useful words to help you get by and form a base of conversations. A few key words and phrases include: gracias (thank you), los servicios (the toilets), la cuenta (bill/check), habla inglés? (do you speak English?), and no comprendo (I don’t understand). When addressing elders or those who you are not well acquainted with yet, use the formal titles of Señor and Señora: the Spanish are very traditional in many ways. If you are totally stuck with the language barrier, in most major cities it won’t be too difficult to find someone that speaks English nearby, but they will appreciate your attempt to connect in their language.
Greetings in Spain
When meeting someone new for the first time, a hand shake is proper. A common hello in Spain is Buenos dias if you are greeting someone in the morning or Buenas tardes if the exchange takes place in the afternoon. If you are seeing someone who you would consider a good acquaintance or friend, it is more acceptable to hug or exchange some kisses on the cheek (always starting with the left!). If your greeting is ever delayed by say a good ten to twenty minutes, don’t be alarmed or angry, it is common to run late when you are on ‘Spain time’ (unless it is for work).
If you are traveling to Spain for business, take note of the adjusted office hours. Some offices stay open from 9am-3pm with a quick lunch break. Others are open through the morning, with a 2-3 hour lunch break before opening back up around 4 or 5pm until 7 or 8pm. When packing, know that ‘smart dress’ is the common dress code for business meetings in Spain. Same as speaking with elders for the first time, refer to your business partners with the formal usted before switching to tu once a solid relationship has been established.
Dress/Appearance in Spain
Keep in mind to be properly covered when entering any of Spain’s many churches. Avoid sleeveless tops and shorts in these settings out of respect. Depending on what town or city along the beach you might be visiting, you may wear your bathing suit, which is totally acceptable. However, many bars and restaurants are becoming more strict on allowing this beach attire into their businesses, so make sure to have an extra set of clothes on hand. But overall, the Spanish typically wear a very informal dress and casual-smart dress is embraced in most establishments.
Nothing is more important to the Spanish than family. If you are lucky enough to attend a local gathering, expect to meet the entire extended family as well. These huge gatherings are definitely more common and extreme in the rural parts of Spain than in the busy, more modernized cities. You will be quick to notice that the elderly are highly respected in society. In addition, children are well cared for and invited a majority of gatherings. If going to someone’s house for dinner, it is nice to bring a small gift for the children. Additionally, chocolates, a bottle of wine and some flowers are always a nice gesture as well. Avoid bringing dahlias, chrysanthemums and flowers packaged in odd numbers, as these are common symbols at funerals held in Spain.
Timeline of the Day
For those who have never been to Spain before, the timeline of the average day can come as a surprise, especially to the stomach. Expect to eat lunch sometime after 2pm and definitely not before 1:30pm. Unlike most surrounding countries, although not expected, tipping is a common practice in Spain. These amounts are usually small such as 5% at a restaurant or thirty cents at visit to a bar. In regards to dinner, you’ll be expected to stay up until 9pm, getting up to sometimes 10pm on the weekends. These dinners are commonly followed with a leisurely stroll, or paseo. Feel free to add a few bar stops along the way. Outside of meals, plan your shopping outside of the hours of 2-5pm. Many shops are closed during these hours while shop owners return home to eat their lunch and maybe take a brief siesta before the long night ahead of them. It is recommended you do the same! It is common for clubs to stay open until the sun rises the next day, so Spain is not the place to feel guilty about sleeping in a bit.
Have you been to Spain? What other cultural norms are important for visitors to note?
Post written by: Kirsten Cusack