Traditions & Customs
Culture and identity
- Spaniards in general are very patriotic about both their country and the region in which they live. Avoid arguments about whether or not people from Catalonia or the Basque Country are Spaniards. Safety is generally not a concern in case you engage in an argument, but you will be dragged into a long, pointless discussion. If you are in the deep Basque Country, however, you may actually run into some serious problems.
- Spaniards, especially the young, generally feel a linguistic and cultural connection to Latin America. However, most will be quick to point out that Spain is a European nation, not a Latin American one and that all Spanish-speaking countries are different and have particularities of their own.
- Spaniards are not as religious as the media sometimes presents them, but they are and always were a mostly Catholic country (73% officially, although just 10% admit practising and just a 20% admit being believers); respect this and avoid making any comments that could offend. In particular, religious festivals, Holy Week (Easter), and Christmas are very important to Spaniards. Tolerance to all religions should be observed, especially in large urban areas like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville or Malaga (where people and temples of all beliefs can be found) or different regions in southern Spain, which may have a sizeable Muslim population (which accounts for almost 4% of the country's population).
- Despite being a Catholic majority country, homosexuality is quite tolerated in Spain and public display of same-sex affection would not likely stir hostility. A 2013 Pew survey of various countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East found that Spain had the highest percentage of people who believed homosexuality should be accepted by society, at 88% Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2005 and the government provides legal benefits to same-sex couples. However, this does not always necessarily mean that all Spaniards are friendly to gays; while homophobic aggressions are rare, they still happen. Cities are more tolerant of homosexuality than rural areas, Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque Country are much more tolerant but overall Spain is gay-friendly. As in any other place, elderly people do usually have far more conservative points of view. The Madrid pride parade is one of the largest in the world. Overall, Spain is one of the safest countries for LGBT tourists.
- Avoid talking about the former colonial past and especially about the "Black Legend." Regardless of what you may have heard Spain had several ministers and military leaders of mixed race serving in the military during the colonial era and even a Prime Minister born in the Philippines (Marcelo Azcarraga Palmero). Many Spaniards take pride in their history and former imperial glories. People from Spain's former colonies (Latin America, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines, Western Sahara and Northern Morocco) make up a majority of foreign immigrants in Spain (58%) along with the Chinese, Africans and Eastern Europeans. Equally, Spain is one of the main investors and economic and humanitarian aid donors to Latin America and Africa.
- Bullfighting is seen by many Spaniards as a cultural heritage icon, but the disaffection with bullfighting is increasing in all big cities and obviously among animal activist groups within the country. Many urban Spaniards would consider bullfighting a show aimed at foreign tourists and elderly people from the countryside, and some young Spaniards will feel offended if their country is associated with it. To illustrate how divided the country is, many Spaniards point to the royal family: King Juan Carlos and his daughter are avid fans, while his wife and the Heir Prince do not care for the sport. Bullfights and related events, such as the annual San Fermin Pamplona bull-runs, make up a multimillion-euro industry and draw many tourists, both foreign and Spanish. In addition, bullfighting was recently banned in the northeastern region of Catalonia and has also been outlawed in several towns and counties all over the country.
- Take care when mentioning the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975 as well as the Civil War of 1936-1939. This was a painful past as Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist, executing many Spaniards who violated the anti-democratic laws of the regime. It was also a notable period of economic growth in the final years of Franco's regime, and some older Spaniards may have supportive views of him.
- It is customary to kiss friends, family, and acquaintances on both cheeks upon seeing each other and saying goodbye. Male-to-male kisses of this sort are limited to family members or to very close friends; otherwise a firm handshake is expected instead (same as in France or Italy).
- Spaniards are keen to maintain physical contact while talking, such as putting a hand on your shoulder, patting your back, etc. These should be taken as signs of friendship done among relatives, close friends and colleagues.
- Spaniards will probably feel comfortable around you more quickly than other Europeans and you may even be receive an offensive comment or even an insult (cabrón) for a greeting shortly after meeting someone in an informal environment, especially if it is a young person or a male. You should not feel offended by this, as it is interpreted as proof that you have such a close relationship that you can mess with each other without repercussions. You should reply with a similar comment (never anything serious or something that will genuinely hurt the person) or just greet them. Do not go around insulting people, though, as you will also find people who do not like it. It is recommended that you never do this first as a foreigner and just wait until you get it. Generally, your instinct will be able to distinguish between a joke and a genuine aggression.
- When in a car, the elderly and pregnant always ride in the passenger's seat, unless they request not to.
- Spaniards are not as punctual as Northern Europeans, but generally you are expected to arrive no more than ten minutes late, and being punctual will always be received positively. It is especially important to be punctual the first time you meet with someone. As a rule of thumb, you should expect people to be more punctual as you go north and less punctual as you go south.
- If you are staying at a Spaniard's home, bring shoes to wear inside such as slippers. Walking around barefoot in the house is viewed as unsanitary. Walking in socks may be acceptable in a close friend's house, but you should always ask first.
- It is acceptable for women to sunbathe topless in beaches. Full nudity is practised in "clothing-optional" or nudist beaches.
Eating and drinking
- During lunch or dinner, Spaniards do not begin eating until everyone is seated and ready to eat. Likewise, they do not leave the table until everyone is finished eating. Table manners are otherwise standard and informal, although this also depends on the place you are eating. When the bill comes, it is common to pay equally, regardless of the amount or price each has consumed (pagar a escote).
- When Spaniards receive a gift or are offered a drink or a meal, they usually refuse for a while, so as not to seem greedy. This sometimes sparks arguments among especially reluctant people, but it is seen as polite. Remember to offer more than once (on the third try, it must be fairly clear if they will accept it or not). On the other hand, if you are interested in the offer, politely smile and decline it, saying that you don't want to be a nuisance, etc., but relent and accept when they insist.
- Spaniards rarely drink or eat in the street. Bars will rarely offer the option of food to take away but "tapas" are easily available. Especially unheard of until recently was the "doggy bag." However, in the last few years, taking leftovers home from a restaurant, although still not common, has become somewhat less of a stigma than it once was. One asks for "un taper" (derived from "Tupperware") or "una caja." Older Spaniards are still likely to frown on this.
- Appearing drunk in public is generally frowned upon.
Spain - Travel guide