Spanish Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Direct Communication: Spaniards generally have a direct communication style. They tend to speak very openly and are comfortable showing emotion. This can give some foreigners from more reserved cultures the impression that Spaniards are very confident people, leading them to make decisions under this assumption when this may not necessarily be the case. You can expect Spaniards to offer honest answers to sincere questions. They speak clearly about their point and generally like to leave an interaction having voiced all their opinions. In return, they expect similar honesty from their conversation partner and hence may fail to read into understatements. It is important to avoid ambiguity and indirect speech.
  • Requests: The Spanish phrasing of requests is generally quite direct. For example, in Castilian (Spanish), someone would commonly ask for a coffee by saying “Would you give me a coffee?” (Me pones un café?) or “Give me a coffee, please” (Ponme un café, por favor). This differs from many places in the English-speaking West where it is more common to use conditional expression and polite forms, e.g. “Could I please have a coffee?”. 
  • Common Courtesy: Consider that ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ are not said as habitually in Spain. This is not intended to be rude. Rather, some Spanish may find it a bit excessive to express profuse gratitude and politeness throughout everyday exchanges.
  • Silence: Consider that Spaniards can struggle to stay quiet for long durations of time. They are not particularly comfortable with silence in social situations. If conversation does fall quiet, it may be perceived to reflect badly on the relationship with the conversation partner.
  • Informality: There are different forms of expression in Spanish that communicate varying levels of courtesy and formality. The polite form of speech involves addressing people in the formal form of ‘you' (known as ‘usted’). This was once once used to mark social distance between superiors and inferiors, even within the family. However, today it is not commonly used in day-to-day conversation. Most Spaniards tend to use the informal pronoun ‘’ in most situations.
  • Inverted Question Marks: In the Spanish and Catalan languages, questions are written with an inverted (or upside-down) question mark at the beginning of the sentence. For example: ¿Cuántos años tienes? (How old are you?).
  • Interruption & Volume: It is common and acceptable for friends to interrupt and talk over one another as people get excited about conversation. In some cases, people may shout to be heard. This is not necessarily rude but indicates full engagement with the discussion. One often hears Spaniards call out and even heckle during speaking engagements and performances. This is expected to be taken in jest.
  • Swearing: Swearing is common and generally acceptable among friends. 
  • Humour: Spaniards love to joke throughout conversation. People often have many funny stories that they are prepared to tell to liven up a room. However, be aware that it is not common for people to ‘banter’ by poking fun at each other in critical ways. It is best not to angle humour too personally at the expense of those in the room. 


Non-Verbal

  • Personal Space: Spaniards generally keep about half a metre of personal space from one another. Men are generally less protective of their personal space than those in the English-speaking West. Nevertheless, women are generally more comfortable with closer proximities.
  • Physical Contact: The Spanish tend to be quite tactile and expressive with physical touch. Open displays of affection between couples are common and acceptable. It is common to see people walking hand-in-hand, or friends walking together with their arms interlocked. Among friends, people may nudge your arm, elbow or leg to reinforce their points in conversations, put an arm around your shoulder in camaraderie or hold both your shoulders to show deep appreciation. Some people may even casually finger the lapel of another person’s clothing, or neaten their attire for them. All these moments of physical interaction are meant to signify friendly affection and approachability. Spanish men tend to be less guarded about physical contact with other men than those from English-speaking countries.
  • Eye Contact: Direct eye contact is expected during conversation in Spain.
  • Body Language: Spaniards may gesticulate more in general conversation. They tend to be quite demonstrative with their expressions, using their hands to emphasise their points.
  • Beckoning: The most common way to beckon another person is to hold one’s hand up with the palms facing upwards and waving one’s fingers towards one’s self. Avoid using a single index finger alone as this can have suggestive tones.
  • Pointing: Avoid directly pointing at people with the index finger. This is considered rude.
  • Gestures: People may give one another a nonverbal cue to alert those around them if they see someone that they suspect is a thief. This involves extending a hand out and lightly touching each finger to the palm.
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