Spanish Culture

Etiquette

Basic Etiquette

  • Say hello and goodbye when entering any shop or establishment. 
  • Greet people when they enter an elevator/lift.
  • If you need to give an object to someone, pass it to them. It is rude to toss it in their direction.
  • Tipping is common but not routinely expected. It is not considered rude to tip a small amount, such as 20 cents or 5%. You may give this small change to taxi drivers, bellhops, etc. after a service.
  • Punctuality is not highly important in Spain. People can arrive half an hour late to a social function with no questions raised. If someone turns up late and apologises, people are likely to respond with something like “no pasa nada” – meaning “It’s not that important”.
  • In Spain, it is generally expected that the man pays for the woman.
  • In large groups, the person who invites the other guests to dinner is usually the one who should pay for it. It is considered very awkward for everyone to calculate their fair share and pay individually. 
  • It is best not to protest someone paying for you, even out of politeness as arguing over the bill is seen as bad manners. The best thing to do is give them some money later on once you have left the restaurant, or pay for a drink or dessert. If you want to insist on paying the bill to make a good gesture, you can get up as if going to the restroom and ask the waiter privately for the bill, paying for it there. 


Visiting

  • Spaniards are renowned for being welcoming and generous people. It is a common saying in Spain that “mi casa es tu casa” (my house is your house). However, they tend to prefer to socialise at public places (e.g. bars and cafes) rather than in their homes. Therefore, try not to be offended if you are not invited to a Spaniard’s house for a long time.
  • It is not essential to bring things when visiting Spaniards. People are generally more interested in your company and conversation than what gifts you bring. However, it is common for female guests to bring a salad or dessert to a dinner while male guests usually bring alcohol. See Gift Giving below for more information.
  • Expect meals to be served at later times. Dinner is usually eaten between 9pm and 11:30pm.
  • Do not leave immediately after a meal is finished. It is expected that guests stay for ‘la sobremesa’. This is the time spent after the meal that involves relaxed, fun conversations over coffee or alcoholic drinks.
  • In many cases, the sobremesa is the main point of the visit, extending far into the morning. 
  • You can usually gauge when a host is ready for you to leave their home when they stop offering you more drinks.
  • People may not wish to give an outright announcement when the night is at its end. Instead, people may talk about having “la penultima” – one last drink for the road or ‘the last but one’. This shows a reluctance to leave because you are having such a good time.
  • Make sure you say a thorough goodbye before leaving someone’s house. Everyone usually embraces before departing. Sometimes goodbyes can be quite prolonged from the time that someone actually announces his or her departure.


Eating

  • All meals of the day commence later in Spain than what people are familiar with in the English-speaking West. Lunch (la comida) is the main meal of the day. It is generally eaten between 2pm and 4pm. Meanwhile, dinner (la cena) is rarely eaten before 9pm. It can begin at 10pm on weekends, or even later.
  • People dine at restaurants (restaurantes or comedors) for full meals or bars that serve ‘tapas/pinchos’ (small snacks) and ‘raciones’ (larger portions intended for sharing). Bars tend to work out to be more expensive, but have more variety.
  • Spaniards may bring additional guests with them to lunch or dinner unless you explicitly tell them that a table has been reserved for a certain number of people.
  • In Spain, people often choose their own table at a restaurant instead of waiting to be seated. At someone’s home, wait until the host indicates everyone should take a seat before sitting. 
  • Do not start eating until the host or person who invited everyone indicates it is time to start.
  • Keep your hands visible above the table, with your wrists resting on the edge.
  • The host gives the first toast, which is returned by the guest later in the meal. 
  • In Spain, people toast by saying “Salud!” (Health!).
  • It is impolite to waste food. Therefore, try to eat everything on your plate. It is better to decline a large portion or second serving rather than leaving food on your plate. 
  • Spaniards rarely drink tap water at restaurants. People are usually served bottled water or are expected to purchase a beverage, such as a small beer (caña) or wine. 
  • Avoid getting too drunk at a meal. Spanish generally do not drink very heavily at meals. They tend to talk over one glass for a long time. 
  • Bread is commonly served in a wicker basket on the side of meals.
  • People often use bread to eat any remaining sauces or leftovers on their plate after finishing their dish.
  • It is common to take a leisurely stroll (paseo) outdoors before or after dinner. People also sit around the table talking for a long time after the meal concludes. This is called ‘la sobremesa’.


Gift Giving

  • When visiting someone’s house, bring gifts that can be shared (for example, wine, chocolates or pastries). Be aware that flowers are not common gifts since they can’t be easily shared.
  • It is expected that parent’s friends give gifts to children when it is their birthday. However, gift giving on birthdays (cumpleaños) is less common among adults. Spaniards may treat all their friends to drinks instead of receiving gifts. 
  • Open gifts immediately upon receiving them so you can remark on the gift and thank the giver in person. 
  • Try and wrap gifts beautifully. 
  • When giving flowers, the bouquet should count to an odd number. Be aware that red roses have romantic connotations while white lilies and chrysanthemums are given at funerals.
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