Understanding Spanish culture

Understanding Spanish culture

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Even Spanish locals admit the uniqueness of Spanish customs; from tapas culture and time management to siestas and hugging, here's a brief guide to understanding Spanish cultural quirks.

"Spain is different," is a typical phrase you hear from Spanish people when talking about their culture. Indeed, there is a lot to learn and understand for those arriving in Spain for the first time. Below are the main cultural habits in Spain for expats to understand – and the best ways to deal with Spanish time management, tapas, weather and communication.

Time management and at the workplace

Are Spanish always late?

People usually get out of the office late, and to this extent it's quite cultural. There may be a lack of productivity or organisation, but it also means employees are working at the office later than the normal time. It is probably another inheritance of the over exploitation of employees from employers during the high unemployment period of the 1980s (which actually came back now).

Spaniards might not have the same 'timing' as the rest of Europe and it's not easy to explain why they often arrive late to appointments. This stereotype is not so true on a professional level but with friends and family it still happens frequently. They just take their time.

Another common frustration is time management when working with Spanish people. The cliché is that they lack organisation and are late with projects deadlines. Sometimes this happens but this is easily compensated by being more flexible and responsive. The Spanish are highly skilled at finding solutions for last-minute problems.

Spanish tapas and friendships

There is a real gastronomic culture in Spain, from commonly eating out at restaurants to hosting at home. The food, the taste and sharing are important in daily Spanish life – tapas and tapas bars are vivid examples of this.

It's common that people get together two or three times a week to eat tapas. The location and menu selection is usually chosen for what the bar offers as a specialty. And usually everyone buys a round of drinks, while the bill is divided equally.

Even at work food is important. Many people take a break, more so in rural places, during the morning for 'desayuno' (breakfast) and a two-hour lunch break where you take time out for a full three-course meal.

From a social perspective, something also quite unusual for foreigners is how loud the locals are in a bar or any place they get together. They stick to each other, too, in the street, on the metro and the bus and in bars – everyone is close enough to touch. If you are not used to such close personal contact it can seem a little uncomfortable, but it's just a part of Spanish culture that is refreshing to adopt – they like to touch, hug and kiss their friends and families.

Weather and Spanish siestas

The climate has a big influence on how people live and interact in Spain, especially warm weather. Spaniards usually go to work between 8am and 9am, eat lunch around 2pm to 4pm, and dine at 9pm or later. The more south in Spain you live the later the eating hours – and it's mainly because of the heat.

The heat during the summertime is so high even working hours change from June to September in some companies. Many companies opt for shorter summer working hours, typically 8am to 3pm, and ask employees to work a little longer during the winter, usually 9am to 6:30pm or later.

Are siestas a myth or a reality?

In the past it was known that the Spanish had daily siestas, but this was more a habit for people working in the countryside who awoke extra early to work and avoid the heat.

Summer afternoons in some parts of Spain are so hot it's difficult to be outside between 2pm and 6pm, and in such places you will hardly find anybody out at that time and shutters will be drawn to cool buildings inside. In this way, the afternoon is a good time to recover from the heat and have a siesta.

A typical Spanish day in summer can look like this: work from 8:30am to 3pm; go out for a light lunch, then cool off at a beach or pool or go home and rest until 9pm. By 10pm you'll be out for dinner, meeting friends and enjoying the cool nights until late. Then repeat; the best part of Spanish culture.

Stephanie Mazier / Expatica

StephanieStéphanie Mazier is a globe-trotting connoisseur from France who has lived in Spain and the Netherlands long enough to know the special and unique customs. She also runs a food blog at appetitvoyage.blogspot.com. Published 2011; updated 2016.

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2 Comments To This Article

  • Tx9Va5 posted:

    on 25th October 2015, 04:02:05 - Reply

    I was born in Texas, as was my first 3 tiers of family. There are green, blue, hazel, and brown eyed members in my family. We also have majority blonde and redhead family members. It shocks me how naive people can be making a great assumption that Mexican and Spanish people are one in the same! They really aren't! I was recently in San Sabastian,Spain, and loved it so much! It was the very first time anyone in my family had traveled back to the land of our ancesters. What a privelege it was to share my story with the locals, and have tapas restaurant owners buy us a platter with sangria as a way to honor and celebrate my family! Beautiful people and gorgeous place! Thank you Spain!

  • Diego posted:

    on 31st August 2011, 23:52:34 - Reply

    I think it's quite a good idea about us, spaniards, but we are not so bad managing our time. I know I can be more productive, and I'm capable of doing the same in less hours, but, I can't leave the office before 7pm, so it's better to control time to avoid overworking. And of course, I just can take a siesta in summer, no time during the year...
    Thanks Steph, you have to come over in October, Carlos will change the menu and you'll love it...
    XX