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Guide to Cultural Traits for Expats in Spain

Submitted: August 2013

Spain has a rich and colourful history that is reflected in many aspects of life in the country.

When thinking of Spain and its culture perhaps the first thoughts are of flamenco dance, bull fights and fiestas. All of these activities can be found throughout Spain and are very important to the majority of Spaniards.

Annual fiestas are celebrated locally and regionally at different times of the year and barely a month goes by when one would struggle to find a fiesta somewhere. A fiesta is usually held in honour of a particular saint and is planned months in advance. Individuals from all over the area will gather to take part or watch the proceedings which are often brought to a close by a spectacular fireworks display.

Perhaps it is the tradition of fiestas which brings communities together that has helped shape cultural traits in the country. Spanish people are generally very sociable and family ties are important to the point that the interests of the wider family are often considered more important than the needs and wants of an individual. Although it has to be said that generally the younger generations are no longer so family orientated as their parents and grandparents.

When it comes to children, Spaniards do not have the attitude that children should be seen but not heard. It is common for kids to be allowed to stay up late into the evening, actively joining in with family celebrations and the local fiestas when in other cultures the youngsters would be tucked up in bed.

Greetings between Spaniards always involve a handshake between men and often women tend to kiss each other on the cheek when saying hello. Friendly slaps on the back can frequently be observed when men greet each other.

The Spanish way of life is in part shaped by the climate and it is not unusual for people to eat dinner long after nine in the evening.

Good manners should be observed in all situations and when invited to a Spanish residence the guest is expected to present a gift of chocolates, flowers, pastries, cakes, wine or liqueur to the host/hostess. If the hosts have children it is likely that they will be included in the evenings’ activities and the guest should bring a small gift for them.

A guest should always wait to be directed to a particular seat at the table. It is considered good manners to rest the wrists on the table to ensure that hands remain visible at all times. Nobody sitting at the table should begin to eat their meal before the hostess does. It is considered rude to leave the table prior to the guest of honour.

In private as well as in business circles it is important to Spaniards to not appear foolish in the eyes of others and they will therefore do their best to present a good image at all times. Spanish people generally do not like to admit in public that they are wrong and it is considered very impolite to point out the error of a particular action by an individual in front of others.

For expats new to Spain the advice must be to watch, learn and listen how others Spaniards behave instead of offending a new Spanish acquaintance through an ill-considered comment or action.



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