This guide to business culture and etiquette in Spain is courtesy of Executive Planet
Working hours vary both across Spain and according to the type of business but most offices are generally open from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. and again from perhaps 4:30 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. until about 8:00 p.m. Monday to Friday. In July and especially August, when most people take their vacations, hours may change to 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Friday.
Banks and government offices open 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday to Friday [banks are usually open 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturday] and may not open at all in the afternoon.
Whilst the siesta remains an integral feature of the Spanish way of life, it is no longer the case that all Spain 'closes' completely for the afternoon. Since Franco's death in 1975, Spanish working hours have become 'Europeanised.' Though still far from 'nine-to-five', the Spanish business day increasingly recognises that its former idiosyncrasies no longer match the demands and expectations of the modern commercial world. Thus, a shorter break is more typically taken between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. [more or less], bigger shops remain open throughout the day and close at 9:00 p.m. and many office-workers remain at their desks until mid-evening. More and more staff do not leave the office at all during the siesta.
Nevertheless, even in Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia, the working day still means arriving at the office around 9:00 a.m. For many, the day will begin leisurely at first, drinking coffee and catching up with the news or office gossip. Work does not really start until 9:30 or 10.00 a.m. but, if it includes dinner, the working day may extend beyond midnight.
Lunch usually starts between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. and, depending on the circumstances, could either be a quick, casual meal at a local café or bar or last for several hours in a fine restaurant. After returning to the office, workers stay as long as necessary, typically until 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. but often much later for professionals.
Business can be conducted over meals but you should be aware that Spaniards regard eating as a primarily sociable activity so, if you do want to discuss business, you should make this clear to your Spanish counterpart in advance. Breakfast meetings are not very popular and should certainly not be scheduled before 8:30 a.m. Also, because many Spaniards still go home for lunch, so you should not be alarmed if your invitation to eat at this time is declined.
Because of the comparatively unusual structure of the Spanish working day, it is probably best to arrange an initial meeting for the mid-morning until or unless you know your counterpart's particular practice.
Holidays, vacations, and punctuality
You should always make appointments well in advance and confirm them by letter, fax or e-mail just before your arrival.
If a public holiday [and Spain has the highest number in Europe with at least fourteen, mostly national, but also regional and local] falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, many people take a four-day weekend [known as hacer puente]. Spain remains a strongly Catholic country and many official holidays relate to religious festivals, particularly days of obligation such as Corpus Christi [a movable feast celebrated in Cordoba, Seville and Toledo], and the immovable Feasts of Epiphany [6 January], Saint James [25 July], the Assumption [15 August]], All Saints [1 November] and the Immaculate Conception [8 December]. The secular National Holiday is 12 October [Día de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Day)] and 6 December is Día de la Constituciòn [Constitution Day]. Confusingly banks do not necessarily close on every public holiday.
In addition, all towns and villages have important annual fiestas and/or ferias that may last several days; perhaps the best known is Las Fallas, which plunges Valencia into a massive celebration for a week in mid-March. It is, therefore, imperative that you consult regional and local calendars as well as the list of national holidays before making travel plans.
Most Spaniards have 30 days of paid vacation per year and usually take their leave in August or around Easter [particularly in Semana Santa (Holy Week)]. You should also avoid scheduling appointments around Christmas.
Spain is one of the least punctual countries in Europe. Although you should always be punctual yourself, you should not be surprised or alarmed if you are kept waiting for some 15-30 minutes. This is neither uncommon nor intentionally rude but you may want to bring work, a book, or some other diversion to fill the time while you wait.
Perhaps the only things that occur on time in Spain are bullfights, football matches and theatrical performances. Certainly trains and buses can have an entirely flexible relationship with the official published timetable. The worst offenders, though, are the state bureaucracy and the former state industries. Procrastination and delay are endemic in sectors such as energy, utilities, telecommunications, construction, and indeed anything that requires official documentation. This survival of the spirit of mañana does not signify indolence or deliberate obstructionism but it does underline the difference between the dynamism of the modern private sector and the unreformed practices of the statist industries, which also infuriate most Spaniards who have a deep distrust of administration.
When you arrive at an appointment, the most appropriate way to announce yourself is to present your business card to the receptionist, who in turn will let your Spanish contact know that you have arrived.
Parties and other social gatherings rarely begin at the advertised time and it is reasonable to inquire about the time you are really expected to arrive, which will probably be 15-30 minutes after the 'official' time.
Guidelines for business dress
Spaniards are extremely dress-conscious and will perceive your appearance as an indication of your professional achievement and relative social standing.
It is important to dress con elegancia, which means top-quality, conservative clothing in relatively subdued colours. Men should wear dark woollen or linen suits and silk ties with white cotton shirts and women should wear well-cut suits [including trouser suits] or business dresses made of high-quality fabrics. Designer clothes and brand names will be noted with approval.
The female business traveller should strive to dress with the utmost modesty, as Spanish women are expected to avoid drawing attention to their physical sexuality and tend to emphasise their femininity through their immaculate clothes and hair.
Obviously the weather can be an important factor in determining what to wear. As the temperature approaches 40ºC in the shade at the height of summer, it becomes increasingly acceptable to wear lightweight suits and, outside an air-conditioned office, to loosen one's tie and throw one's jacket over one's shoulder.
As always, it is best to follow the example of your Spanish counterpart and to remember that it is 'cool' to look smart but also that it is smart to look literally cool.
On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that it can be very cold in January and February in the central meseta and surrounding mountain ranges and that, even in high summer, there can be an uncomfortably marked difference in temperature between, say, the heat of Madrid and the cool air of El Escorial in the adjacent foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama to the northwest of the capital.
When off-duty, you should bear in mind that shorts are not really acceptable in public, that the dress code for entering a church is both strict and strictly enforced [i.e. neither sex should display a disrespectfully excessive amount of bare flesh], and that top restaurants will expect at least 'smart casual' dress even in July-August.
'Smart casual' does not include un-ironed T-shirts, cheap jeans and trainers/sneakers.
Welcome topics of conversation
The Spanish are a vivacious and gregarious people who can also be proud and individualistic. Their immediate friendliness may strike a more reserved foreigner as perfunctory or superficial rather than genuinely spontaneous. This amiable façade does not mask indifference, however, but allows a Spaniard to observe social niceties whilst at the same time affording the time and a proper opportunity to get to know [and like] you.
The quality of your character is the measure of the respect that you deserve in this rather old-fashioned culture so you should try not to place too much emphasis on your professional experience and business success during conversation or to judge everything Spanish by North American [or even North European] standards. Modesty is valued above assertiveness but there is no place for self-deprecation in a culture that emphasizes personal pride and honor [orgullo].
Spaniards maintain a serious, dignified image in a public or formal setting but are quick to relax in private. The ability to be amusing and entertaining is much prized and humor plays an important part even in business discussions. Personal banter is acceptable but not any kind of sarcasm that might offend the Spanish sense of honor and so undermine the respect and trust that you must strive to establish.
It is difficult to cause real offence without being directly insulting - and you should not confuse a Spaniard's innate animation with anger or any other deep-seated emotion - but you must avoid making disrespectful remarks about Spanish traditions or practices that you may find alien [if not downright infuriating].You must certainly not allude to national or regional stereotypes.
Welcome topics of conversation:
Your home country;
Your travels, especially in Spain;
[Spanish] art, architecture and pre-20th century history;
Spanish traditions [e.g. flamenco];
Spanish wines and sherry;
Sport, especially football [soccer];
Bullfighting [if you and your counterpart share the same enthusiasm or hostility];
Politics [with care and only if you really do know what you are talking about];
Family, especially [your host's] children.
Topics to avoid:
Bullfighting [if you and your counterpart are likely to disagree];
Religion [i.e. any aspect of Roman Catholicism];
The Civil War and WWII;
Basque separatism and Catalan regionalism;
Enquiries of a personal nature, especially during first introductions;
Machismo and feminism.
Addressing others with respect
As a guiding principle, first names are traditionally reserved for family, close friends and children.
It is always correct to use the basic titles of courtesy - Señor [Mr], Señora [Mrs], Señorita [Miss] - followed by the surname. It is also advisable to address qualified individuals by any titles they may have, e.g., Profesor, followed by their surname; professional and/or academic titles, however, are not normally used when addressing Spanish executives.
The old courtesy titles don and doña preceding a first name to show respect to an older or senior man or woman when talking to or about them are increasingly rare in modern Spain; they may still be used before full names in official documents and contracts or in combination with Sr, Sra or Srta in formal correspondence. To use them in speech today risks appearing sarcastic or mocking.
Spaniards have two surnames [apellidos] - their father's first surname and their mother's first surname - and you should take care to use both unless/until it becomes clear that your colleague uses only one; the same applies to compound first names, e.g. José-María.
Similarly, you should use the formal usted when addressing a counterpart in Spanish unless/until invited to use the more informal tú.
Increasingly, though, you will find that younger Spaniards in particular will use first names and tú from the outset in business relations, at least with their peers, and reserve usted for superiors and for older people, whatever their position in the company [also, confusingly, for servants]. This applies especially in the South, which tends to be more informal and quicker to embrace a more familiar relationship.
Selecting and presenting an appropriate business gift
There is a tradition in Spain of companies giving their employees a hamper or basket of food and drink at Christmas [families and friends exchange presents on the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January)].
In ordinary Spanish business culture, however, gifts are usually given only at the conclusion of successful negotiations.
If you receive a gift, you should open it immediately and in front of the giver.
When offering any gift, you should ensure that it is a high-quality item [perhaps a brand-name] and that it is finely wrapped; it should advertise your company name only if it is a fine pen or a tasteful desk accessory.
You should not give anything too extravagant as your generosity may be perceived as a bribe.
If you can travel prepared, representative local artefacts and coffee-table books about your home region will usually be appreciated as gifts. University or sports team shirts and caps can be good choices for your colleagues' children.
If unprepared, a bottle of fine brandy or whisky will always be appreciated.
If you are invited to a Spanish home, you should take chocolates, dessert items such as pastries, or flowers [not dahlias, chrysanthemums, white lilies or red roses, and an odd number of blooms that is not thirteen].
What you should know before negotiating
Visitors to Spain should realise that there are two quite distinct business cultures in Spain. On the one hand there are the bigger and newer, or reformed, industries that have received significant amounts of foreign investment and embraced modern, international management techniques. On the other, there are the traditional SMEs and family businesses that account for the majority of Spain's GDP. The leading banks, which still constitute the business elite, are situated somewhere in the middle.
The former are indistinguishable from any other multinational enterprise in their emphasis on decentralised organisation, target-driven team-work, functional specialisation and a focus on quality of output. They exist, however, alongside a preponderance of enterprises in which the team is an unscientific collective operating within a social hierarchy headed by a benign autocrat. Although many aspects of the Spanish character and Spanish business culture transcend such a crude divide, what follows is primarily a guide to the latter category that continues to defy the drift towards European and global homogeneity.
Business cards should ideally be printed in English on one side and in Spanish on the other; you should present your card with the Spanish side facing the recipient.
Equally it is advisable to take plenty of literature about your company to distribute and it helps to bring samples of your products and/or demonstrations of your service.
Personal contacts and relationships are essential for all business success in Spain.
You should select your Spanish representatives with tremendous care because, once you have made your choices, it can be extremely difficult to switch allegiance to other people.
Hierarchy and position play an important role in Spanish culture. For example, it would be frowned upon if you spent a great deal of time and attention on someone of lesser rank than you. It is in your best interests, therefore, to focus chiefly on those who would be considered your 'equals' and obviously to cultivate those you identify as key players in the decision-making process.
In this hierarchical business culture, only the boss [popularly known as el jefe] has the authority to make decisions. Generally, subordinates are required to respect authority, follow orders, and to deal with any problems in such a way that they do not come to the attention of their superiors. For the most part Spaniards work well in teams and the boss sees himself as a team player but theirs remains a 'closed-door' approach to management.
Further advice on negotiating
Decision-making can be slow and tedious: various levels of management will be consulted and all aspects of your proposal will be analysed in painstaking detail. Ultimately, though, only the individual in highest authority makes the final decision. You must, therefore, understand that you will often be dealing with intermediaries but that maintaining a good relationship with these intermediaries is crucial to success.
Most Spaniards will seek the support and approval of family, friends and colleagues before acting on their own. There seems to be an underlying belief here that a person is not an integral part of society unless he or she is recognised as part of a group, neighbourhood, town or business organisation. This strong sense of community extends beyond family and personal ties to all mutual obligations but excludes more abstract northern European conceptions of social responsibility and the common good, which helps to explain Spanish hostility to the authorities and the whole apparatus of the state. Consequently, there tends to be a resistance to the 'outsider' and visitors to the country are expected to overcome their 'outsider' status by fitting into a group of some kind.
Spaniards generally expect the people with whom they are negotiating to have the authority to make the final decision.
Rather than expecting Spaniards to conform to your way of doing things, you must make the effort to understand, if not emulate, their behaviour. This is an effective way of gaining the acceptance of your Spanish counterparts. Making the effort to adapt to their ways demonstrates your respect for their culture, and also tells others that you are adaptable.
Patience is essential in all dealings with the Spanish and extreme patience is required when dealing with Spanish bureaucracy. Spaniards simply do not hurry [although this does not mean that nothing ever gets done] and there is no point in getting upset or angry. You must quite simply learn to live with the inevitable frustrations that the North American or Northern European mindset will encounter.
Do not expect to discuss business at the outset of any meeting. People are more important than institutions and, despite their fiercely independent individualism, Spaniards accept the primacy of loyalty in their personal relations. Indeed the concept of the business meeting is somewhat alien in a culture where strong leadership is more important than systematic procedures, group discussion, brainstorming, forecasting, and operating plans.
During a first meeting, Spaniards will want to become acquainted with you before proceeding with business, so you should be accommodating and answer any questions about your background and family life. It is unlikely that a meeting will stick closely to a detailed agenda or result in a clear action plan; negotiations tend to be quite open with one party clearly taking the lead, but agreements can be flexible and you will probably need to persevere in order to ensure that commitments are put into effect. This will take time.
You should endeavour to remain warm and personal during negotiations whilst retaining your dignity, courtesy and diplomacy. The Spanish participants may initially seem restrained and indirect, but this is normal until your relationship has been established.
Further points on negotiating
Although most Spaniards are receptive to new information and ideas, you may find that they do not change their minds easily. Indeed, older [male] Spaniards especially in the south may seem distinctly 'unreconstructed.'
Feelings, as much if not more than objective facts or empirical evidence, often play an important part in Spanish business culture. Consequently, it is important that you work at developing an excellent rapport with your Spanish counterparts. If they have a favourable impression of you, and believe that you can be trusted, the likelihood of success increases.
Faith in the ideologies of the Church and/or a residual nationalism may also be important influences in decision-making.
Even if your Spanish counterparts seem friendly and encouraging, they may not be forthcoming with information they consider valuable.
If you are interrupted while talking, do not interpret this behaviour as an insult or a cause for concern. More often than not, the Spanish participants' interruptions indicate genuine, animated interest in the discussion. Equally, the Spanish give advice to one another and to visitors freely, so you should not take offence at this habit.
Honour and personal pride mean everything in Spanish culture; you must avoid insulting the Spanish [male] ego at all costs. This can be particularly tricky when dealing with unqualified men who will often feel threatened by technocrats of either sex.
You must do everything you can to prevent yourself and others from losing face, e.g. through loss of control of your emotions or suffering criticism/embarrassment of any kind in the presence of others.
It is your responsibility to ensure that your presentation is comprehensible and, during a meeting or presentation, you must try to ascertain whether your audience really understands you. Since loss of face is viewed so negatively in Spanish culture, people will not admit they are having difficulties in front of others. For this reason, it is always helpful if you can provide a printout of the executive summary of your presentation in Spanish.
Some final remarks
Spaniards often feel a need to be careful about what they say and how they say it. In any but the most private moments with trusted family and friends, speaking 'the truth' if it is unpleasant or unwelcome - is approached with extreme caution.
Particularly when dealing with outsiders, Spaniards will often insist that everything is in perfect order, even when this is not the case. This is a 'face-saving' measure to appear competent and in control. You may have to pay close attention during conversations with your Spanish contacts to discern the sincerity or veracity of what is being said. Numbers can be particularly unreliable in a culture that is averse to budgets and action plans and prefers oral, face-to-face communication to putting anything in writing; written instructions, checks and controls are especially unpopular as they imply a lack of trust.
Because of the reluctance among Spaniards to reveal bad news, it may be important to have a network of independent, disinterested contacts that can verify or interpret what you are being told in your business dealings. Spaniards who have worked or been educated outside Spain may be valuable for this purpose, since they are more likely to be sympathetic to your desire to know the truth.
It is important that you stay involved with your Spanish counterparts, helping to implement what has been agreed. This must be done with sensitivity towards the pride that Spaniards feel in being able to handle things independently. Thus, you should never appear intrusive, but always be available. Ideally, you should express an interest in learning about their ways, while providing them with the resources and information they need to reach their objectives.
Although relatively few women are yet in senior management positions in Spain, businesswomen travelling to Spain will be treated with respect. Nevertheless, dressing and behaving in a professional manner remain essential at all times. It is important for female business travellers to understand that machismo is a very important aspect of the mentality of many Spanish men who still feel the need to be in control of all situations. However, most are usually willing to accept a lunch or dinner invitation from a businesswoman.
Entertaining for business success
It is quite acceptable to conduct business over meals in Spain. Indeed, going out (for coffee, lunch, tapas, dinner...) is a vital ingredient in all successful negotiations. It is not, however, the time for doing business in itself (financial matters have no place at table) but for establishing the personal relationships - based in mutual trust and community of interest - that are essential to achieving your goal.
However, because of the peculiar timetable of the Spanish way of life, you may need to acclimatise and/or get to know your counterpart's habits before extending or accepting any invitation. Breakfast meetings are not popular. Then, outside the bigger cities, you may find that your Spanish colleagues are reluctant to go out for lunch as they often go home to their families at this time for their main meal of the day. Equally, the freshly arrived visitor to Spain may not be accustomed, or feel inclined, to go out for dinner late in the evening. Indeed, dinner is rarely eaten before 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. and often lasts way beyond midnight. Even on an average weeknight, many madrileños, barceloneses, valencianos and citizens of the other major cities, are often not in bed before 1:00 a.m. and, at weekends, revelries frequently extend until churros con chocolate for an early breakfast.
Ideally, you should talk shop at table only if your Spanish companions initiate it and, in any case, protocol requires that you wait until coffee is served at the end of the meal to bring up the subject of business. Latenight dining and lingering over coffee and drinks into the early hours may, therefore, be the perfect way of prosperous socialising for those with sufficient stamina [or a willingness to adapt to the rhythms of Spanish life].
If compromise indeed proves necessary, however, then you will probably find that, in the main commercial centres, lunch is usually the best time for a 'business' meal. It usually starts between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. and, depending on the circumstances, could either be a quick, casual meal at a local café or bar or last for several hours in a fine restaurant. Colleagues regularly lunch together (increasingly in the staff canteen) but ranks do not mix and the boss usually makes the point of eating out with peers from other companies. Alternatively, you might join your colleagues in socialising over drinks and snacks at the end of the day's work.
Your Spanish counterparts may be happy to eat in small cafes or bars close to the office where they are regulars on first-name terms with the owner and his or her staff. This is often the best way to dine in Spain in any circumstances but the new visitor does not have the requisite local knowledge for this to be an immediate success; nor would your native colleagues be too impressed at being entertained in their habitual haunts. It is, therefore, best to make your mark by choosing an excellent restaurant when you first arrange to entertain in this country where there is an intense appreciation of fine food and wine.
Spanish men are usually willing to accept a lunch or dinner invitation from a businesswoman although she must take care to remain strictly professional in her demeanour and behaviour at all times.
As in most countries, the person who extends the invitation pays the bill. If you have been invited out, you should reciprocate at a later date, being careful not to give the impression that you are simply 'repaying' your earlier hosts.
Home entertaining and dinner etiquette
Invitations to a Spaniard's home are extremely rare and constitute a mark of true friendship. Sometimes an invitation to a Spanish home may be extended only for the sake of politeness and you can feel free to decline; but, if you are invited a second time, it would be most churlish to pass up this rare, privileged opportunity. Because business entertaining ordinarily takes place in bars or restaurants rather than at home, however, you may be invited to a private home for drinks before moving on to dinner in a restaurant.
When you are hosting a meal and would like to include your spouse, you should first extend an invitation to your Spanish contact's spouse. If the spouse agrees to the invitation, then it is permissible to include your own spouse.
Spain follows the traditional European seating arrangement for social events: the host and hostess sit at opposite ends of the table with the male guest of honour seated to the right of the hostess and the female guest of honour placed to the right of the host.
When making a typical toast, the host or hostess simply raises his or her glass and says salud; guests do the same in response.
You should refrain from the American habit of switching your fork to your dominant hand when eating and keep both hands above the table at all times.
You should make an effort to eat everything on your plate, as it is considered bad manners to waste food, and you should accept a second helping only if you are confident that you can finish it.
When you have finished, you should place your knife and fork side by side on the plate. If you leave your utensils crossed or at opposite sides of the plate, it will be assumed that you have not finished and/or want more to eat.
Cuisine in Spain
Obviously, the major Spanish cities offer the standard array of international cuisines [with many restaurants of the very highest quality] and perhaps the greatest dining experience on the planet can be had at a small establishment near Barcelona. It would, however, be negligent to ignore native Spanish cooking. This reflects many historical influences but is typically Mediterranean in its liberal use of olive oil, garlic, onions, tomatoes and peppers and takes full advantage of the abundant supply of fresh fish and seafood. There is also a heavy emphasis on meat such that vegetarians might find a varied and interesting diet hard to come by in some places.
Traditional Spanish dishes include gazpacho, tortilla, paella, jamón serrano or ibérico, queso manchego, etc. and there is an abundance of regional specialities, the best of which are to be found in Catalonia or the Basque country.
The best way of experiencing the best of Spanish food, however, is to follow the example of the Spanish themselves and to 'graze.'
A popular lunchtime snack is the bocadillo [a long bread roll filled with ham, cheese, etc.] but the Spanish nibble of preference throughout the day is the tapa [or pincho in parts of northern Spain]. Almost every café, bar, tavern or pub offers a wide range of small plates of food to accompany drinks; there is rarely a menu of what is available but, typically, there will be olives, raw and cooked vegetables, cured and cooked meats, various cheeses, fish and shell-fish. Sometimes, though increasingly rarely, these will be offered as a complement to your drinks but they are invariably a cheap and agreeable way of eating at any time of day [or night]. A ración is a larger portion and correspondingly more expensive; it might be appropriate for a plate of, say, paella that is intended to be a meal in itself. Normally, however, the tapas-eater selects a series of different dishes, often in a sequence of different establishments, so as to enjoy a most satisfying variety of gustatory experiences.
Spain is predominantly a wine-drinking country [at least at meal-times]. The grander restaurants will have a list of fine wines from France and Italy as well as the best that Spain can offer, but it is worth finding out about [and tasting] the many excellent regional wines [both red and white] that are rarely exported. Rioja and the adjacent Navarra are well known, but Cariñena [from Aragón], Penedés and Cava [from Catalonia], Jumilla and Yecla [from Murcia] and Valdepeñas [from the border of La Mancha and Andalucía] are not to be overlooked.
Obviously, sherry [from Jerez de la Frontera] is the aperitif of choice particularly in southern Spain, but a bottle of fino, oloroso or manzanilla can also be the perfect accompaniment to any meal.
If you want a draught beer, you should order a caña [small] or tubo [larger at 300ml]; simply asking for a cerveza will bring you a much more expensive bottle. There are a few good local brews and some decent national brands; the usual global products are also available.
Sangría [a wine and fruit punch with a large dose of brandy] is best left to tourists who do not necessarily need a clear head in the morning. Indeed, anyone drinking spirits should be warned that Spanish measures can often be extremely generous [the proportions of a typical gin and tonic, for example, are likely to be the opposite of what you would ordinarily expect].
Acceptable public conduct
Life in Spain is in many ways the very antithesis of life in North America or Northern Europe: it is unhurried, loud and smoke-filled. There is, however, little point in getting irritated and even less point in trying to complain. It may take a few days to adapt but it is by far the best policy to 'go native' and enjoy the leisurely pace.
The Spanish attitude towards time is notoriously flexible. Nothing is done in a hurry but whatever needs doing gets done. So, if a waiter does not come to your table immediately, you should not condemn him for poor service but accept that he does not appear to be in any hurry because he assumes that you are not in a hurry.
The Spanish daily timetable is also alien to most visitors. Although wider use of air-conditioning is hastening change, old habits die hard and most Spaniards enjoy an active social life out of doors in the cool of the evening and into the night. You should not be surprised to see young children still up at midnight and you should not be annoyed if your colleagues stay out drinking into the early hours. The Spanish day is not rigidly structured; it is not divided crudely into work or play but the two are interwoven throughout the 24-hour cycle. This flexible attitude is epitomised by the habit of ir de tapas--indulging in a series of tasty, different little dishes throughout the course of the day.
On the other hand, all aspects of Spanish bureaucracy [office hours, paperwork, petty rules, indifferent staff, etc.] are really infuriating...
Etiquette and politeness may seem lacking amidst the din of a busy bar but, in general, the Spanish are tolerant, easy-going and even welcoming. In a culture where the self and one's family are paramount, the 'other'--the outsider who does not belong to any obvious group of one's own--is accorded a distinctly inferior status and priority. Still, this does not mean that you should ignore the basic social niceties. A general buenos días or buenas tardes on entering a shop or bar and adiós or buenas noches on leaving is expected. Do not fail to make an effort to understand local customs.
Spaniards are among the heaviest smokers in Europe; Californians, in particular, will just have to accept that it will probably be impossible to persuade a smoking colleague to abstain from the habit even at the dining table.
Initial introductions with Spaniards are always formal: extend a brief but firm handshake, while maintaining eye contact and saying buenos días or buenas tardes depending on the time of day.
Men will continue to shake hands on all subsequent occasions. Women will embrace and kiss; you may also observe professional women greeting particularly close [male] colleagues in this way. In the company of friends, it is also common for men to hug or pat each other on the back as well as shaking hands.
Spaniards, though, are perhaps less likely to insist on going through the same rituals when parting than, say, the French.
In conversation, Spaniards may not only stand uncomfortably close, but may also pat your arm or shoulder. If you are put out by such gestures, it will only cause offence to try to retreat into your own private space.
Indeed, a wide range of gestures accompanies all conversation and the more animated the discussion the more the Spanish will gesticulate. Most Spanish body language is self-explanatory--shrugs of indifference, shaking the hands downwards for emphasis, the universal gestures of contempt, etc.--but you shouldn't hesitate to ask a trusted colleague if you have difficulty understanding certain unfamiliar gestures.
More valuable tips
Remember that the North American symbol for 'OK' [i.e. making a circle with the index finger and thumb] is considered vulgar in Spain.
When summoning someone [e.g. a waiter], you should turn your palm down and wave your fingers or entire hand.
Compared with England, where queuing is a sacrosanct ritual, and North America, where there is also respect for standing in line, Spain often requires a much greater degree of self-assertion in order to gain attention in shops, bars, government offices, etc.
Spaniards derive a sense of identity from their particular region rather than the country as a whole so you should try to be sensitive to regional differences and to avoid making misinformed comments about a Spaniard's region of origin. There are seventeen autonomous regions, each with a different degree of independence from Madrid, and each has its own individual characteristics; you should respect local sensibilities and manners without recourse to stereotypes or caricatures.
Spain is a deeply traditional country, and this essential conservatism is particularly apparent with regard to religion and the status of women.
Although attendance at mass is declining and it is increasingly difficult to recruit candidates for the priesthood, Spain remains a highly religious country--some 94% of the total population of 40m are Roman Catholic--and many people will be offended to hear you take the Lord's name in vain. [Actually it is a good policy to refrain from swearing at all in the presence of others.] If you are visiting a Church, you must be sure to dress and behave with due respect.
Women's liberation has advanced apace since the death of Franco. Whereas in the past a woman could do little without her husband's permission, there are now many more working and independent women, but sexual stereotyping is still strong [especially in the south and amongst older men throughout Spain]. Women are still expected to run the household and look after children and, whilst Spanish men can be extremely charming in female company, their approaches may be too forward for some people's tastes.
Foreign [especially blonde] women continue to hold a particular fascination for the older generation but, although it is now considered rude to whistle, any attractive woman must be prepared for turned heads and lengthy stares from admiring males. The correct response is to smile and ignore such unwanted attention.
By law the service charge is included in the bill in Spanish restaurants, hotels, etc. It is customary, however, to round up and to leave small change in cafes and bars. You might reward exceptional service with an additional tip of 5%.
All taxis are metered and there are usually fixed fares advertised for journeys from the airport to the city centre. A gratuity of 10% will be appreciated.
[Driving in Spain, by the way, can be a hazardous and nerve-racking experience for the more sedate foreign driver; the rules of the road are generally observed but the volume of traffic and pace of driving, especially in city-centres, can be disconcerting for those still struggling to come to terms with the gentle rhythms of all other aspects of Spanish life].
Public conveniences are rare but it is quite acceptable to use the facilities of a café or bar even if you are not a customer. Men should look for the door marked Caballeros and women the door marked Señoras. If you need to ask, the appropriate phrase is ¿[dónde están] los servicios, por favor? [to which the likely response is a sullen wave in the general direction of what you require].
Some final remarks
It is recommended that you carry important documentation [passport, driving licence, insurance papers, etc.] with you at all times.
The volubility and impassioned body language of a Spaniard should not be misunderstood or mistaken for anger; it will be quite apparent when (s)he is really upset by the increased violence in both tone and gesture.
Respectful behaviour requires that you avoid yawning or stretching in public.
If you prefer to take the train, it essential to make a reservation for all inter-city services; this booking is unchangeable.
An introduction - history and government
It is traditionally said that the foundations of modern Spain were laid by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile in the late fifteenth century. Their union brought about the unification of Christian Spain together with the conquest of Moorish Granada as well as the expulsion of the Jews and their sponsorship of Christopher Columbus's first crossing of the Atlantic. In the formation of contemporary Spain, however, the essential date is 20 November 1975 when Generalísimo Francisco Franco died after ruling Spain for nearly forty years. In the intervening years since the death of El Caudillo and the subsequent accession of King Juan Carlos, Spain has been transformed from an insular, restrictive, ultra-Catholic, fascist dictatorship into a modern parliamentary democracy such that many preconceptions and prejudices about the 'old' Spain belong literally to another era.
After the constitution of 1978 confirmed Spain as a constitutional monarchy, the country has continued to evolve despite the occasional hiccup. Spain had already been admitted to the UN in 1955 and joined NATO in 1982 but the great leap forward came in 1986 when Spain joined the [now] European Union. This resulted in a significant economic boom that effectively confirmed Spain's transition to a more or less advanced Western capitalist free-market economy. Spain is a founding member of the eurozone and continues to prosper within the EU where it finds most of its trading partners.
If one were to identify a single feature that symbolises Spain's progress in recent decades, then it would have to be the revision of attitudes towards the traditional siesta. Of course, there are many provincial areas, particularly in the rural south, where the long afternoon break remains the norm, but this is no longer the case in the main centres of commerce. Air-conditioned offices obviously help to reduce the need to avoid the extreme heat of mid-day but Spanish business has also realised that it cannot afford to be at rest in the afternoon when Europe [and indeed the world] might reasonably expect it to be at work. Whilst typical working hours in Spain may still be somewhat different from most of Europe, then, they are no longer completely idiosyncratic.
Regionalism and nationalism
Spain has two unresolved local 'colonial' disputes. The first concerns the contested sovereignty of Gibraltar, which remains a dependency of the British Crown; the second concerns the two Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and three small islands off the coast of North Africa, which are all claimed by Morocco. These are sensitive subjects.
In terms of internal variation and/or conflict there are two main problems and both are founded in regionalism or nationalism. Catalonia [Cataluña [Spanish] or Catalunya [Catalan] is an autonomous community whose capital is Spain's second largest city, Barcelona, and whose own language, Catalan [català], is closer to Occitan [the old language of southern France] than to Castilian or standard Spanish [castellano]. Some of the tension between Catalonia and the capital goes back to the civil war when the Mediterranean province supported the losing Republican cause against Franco's Nationalists. Today, the independent-mindedness of the Catalans manifests itself primarily in a fierce pride in their language, spoken by 17% of the total Spanish population of 40m and an official language in Catalonia, and the hostile rivalry that endures on the football pitch between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid who are perceived as the representatives of central authority.
If it is inadvisable to try to speak Castilian to a staunch Catalan regionalist, it is doubly unwise to address a Basque nationalist in Spanish. The Basque Country [Euskadi or Euskal Herri [Basque] or País Vasco [Spanish]] consists of three provinces in northern Spain centred on the cities of San Sebastián [Donostia in Basque] and Bilbao [Bilbo]. It has been an independent-minded area for centuries and, today, the Basque separatist group [ETA] carries out acts of terrorism across Spain in pursuit of their goal of full independence from Madrid. Only 15% of the local population support the aims of ETA but perhaps a third speak some Basque [a unique and ancient non-Indo-European language]. For the most part, however, the visitor will be aware of a distinct Basque culture only from the use of the Basque language [euskara] on signs and the ubiquitous presence of the frontón [the court for playing traditional Basque sports, notably pelota [Spanish] or jai-alai [Basque]] in even the smallest village.
Galicia in northwest Spain also has its own language, which is closely related to Portuguese, but the visitor is most unlikely to encounter gallego in a business context.
Castilian, Catalan, Basque and Galician are the four lenguas cooficiales, official languages that enjoy equal legal status in Spain. There are almost many pronounced dialects of which valencià in the Levant Region around Valencia and mallorquín in the Balearic Islands are perhaps the most distinctive.