A Look at Spanish Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Welcome to our guide to Spain! This is useful for anyone researching Spanish culture, customs, manners, etiquette, values and wanting to understand the people better. You may be going to Spain on business, for a visit or even hosting Spanish colleagues or clients in your own country. Remember this is only a very basic level introduction and is not meant to stereotype all Spanish people you may meet!
Facts and Statistics
Location: Southwestern Europe, bordering the Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic Ocean, and Pyrenees Mountains, southwest of France
Climate: temperate; clear, hot summers in interior, more moderate and cloudy along coast;
cloudy, cold winters in interior, partly cloudy and cool along coast
Population: 47,737,941 (2014 est.)
Ethnic Make-up: composite of Mediterranean and Nordic types
Religions: Roman Catholic 94%, other 6%
Government: parliamentary monarchy
The Spanish Language
The official language is Spanish, also called Castilian, and is the first language of over 72% of the population. Galician is spoken in the region of Galicia and Basque by increasing numbers of the population of Euskadi, the Spanish Basque Country. Catalan is spoken in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, and the closely-related Valencian in the Valencia region. All these languages have official regional status. Other minority languages including Aragonese and Asturian are not officially recognised.
Spanish Society & Culture
Spanish Family Values
- The family is the basis of the social structure and includes both the nuclear and the extended family, which sometimes provides both a social and a financial support network.
- Today, it is less common than previously for family members to work in a family business, as personal preferences are important and university education is general
- The structure and the size of the family vary, but generally, people live until longer lives, have fewer children than before, and fewer people live in their homes with extended family.
- Familial networks have become less tight. The greatest changes have occurred inside families, between men and woman, and the parents and children because the values that inspire these relations have changed.
- Machismo is the word for male dominance, and the culture of old men who created it has changed dramatically.
- Spain is a very equalitarian society, the birth rate is the one of the lowest in Europe, and women are present at university and work.
Religion in Spain
- The majority of Spaniards are formally Roman Catholic, although different religious beliefs are accepted.
- During the history of Spain, there have been long periods of where different religious groups have coexisted, including Muslims, Jews and Christians.
- Still some traditions manifest more like a cultural event than a religious one.
- During Holy Week, many participants of the processions wear peaked, black hats as the sign of a penitent and walk barefoot, carrying a burden of some kind.
- Religious history is apparent in every small town, where the most grandiose building is typically the church. In the large cities the Cathedrals are almost museums.
Etiquette & Customs in Spain
- When introduced expect to shake hands.
- Once a relationship is established, men may embrace and pat each other on the shoulder.
- Female friends kiss each other on both cheeks, starting with the left.
- People are often referred to as Don or Dona and their first name when in formal occasion as a general rule.
- Many men use a two-handed shake where the left hand is placed on the right forearm of the other person.
- If invited to a Spaniard's home, you can bring chocolates, pastries, or cakes; wine, liqueur, or brandy; or flowers to the hostess.
- If you know your hosts have children, they may be included in the evening, so a small gift for them is always appreciated.
- Remain standing until invited to sit down. You may be shown to a particular seat.
- Always keep your hands visible when eating. Keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table.
- Do not begin eating until the hostess starts.
- Use utensils to eat most food. Even fruit is eaten with a knife and fork.
- If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.
- The host gives the first toast.
- An honoured guest should return the toast later in the meal.
- It is acceptable for a woman to make a toast.
- Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate, tines facing up, with the handles facing to the right.
- Do not get up until the guest of honour does.
Business Etiquette and Protocol
Relationships & Communication
- The Spanish prefer to do business with those they know and trust.
- It is important that you spend sufficient time letting your business colleagues get to know you.
- Once you develop a relationship, it will prevail even if you switch companies, since your Spanish business colleagues' allegiance will be to you rather than the company you represent.
- Face-to-face contact is preferred to written or telephone communication.
- The way you present yourself is of critical importance when dealing with Spaniards.
- It is best to display modesty when describing your achievements and accomplishments.
- Communication is formal and follows rules of protocol.
- Avoid confrontation if at all possible. Spaniards do not like to publicly admit that they are incorrect.
- Trust and personal relationships are the cornerstone of business.
- Spaniards, like many societies, are concerned that they look good in the eyes of others and try to avoid looking foolish at all times.
- Spaniards place great importance on the character of the person with whom they do business.
- Hierarchy and rank are important. You should deal with people of similar rank to your own.
- Decision-making is held at the top of the company, since this is a hierarchical country. You may never actually meet the person who ultimately makes the decision.
- You may be interrupted while you are speaking. This is not an insult, it merely means the person is interested in what you are saying.
- Spaniards do not like to lose face, so they will not necessarily say that they do not understand something, particularly if you are not speaking Spanish. You must be adept at discerning body language.
- Spaniards are very thorough. They will review every minute detail to make certain it is understood.
- First you must reach an oral understanding. A formal contract will be drawn up at a later date.
- Spaniards expect both sides to strictly adhere to the terms of a contract.
Business Meeting Etiquette
- Appointments are mandatory and should be made in advance, preferably by telephone or fax. Reconfirm in writing or by telephone the week before.
- You should try to arrive on time for meetings.
- The first meeting is generally formal and is used to get to know each other. Do not be surprised if no business is actually conducted during the first meeting.
- Agendas are often used but not always needed to be followed too strict.
- Make sure all your printed material is available in both English and Spanish.
- Not all businesspeople speak English, so it is wise to check if you should hire an interpreter.
- Several people may speak at once. You may be interrupted while you are speaking.
- Decisions are not reached at meetings. Meetings are for discussion and to exchange ideas.
- Most Spaniards do not give their opinion at meetings. Therefore, it is important to watch their non-verbal communication.
- Business dress is stylish yet, conservative.
- Dress as you would in the rest of Europe.
- Elegant accessories are important for both men and women.
- Present your business card to the receptionist upon arriving.
- Have one side of your card translated into Spanish.
- Hand your card so the Spanish side faces the recipient.