Introduction: Showing Respect in Spain: Global Seminar

Whenever you visit a new country, you want to make sure you are being perceived in the correct way. Something that is commonly said or done in your own home country may be extremely rude in the culture you find yourself in. The best way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to educate yourself beforehand. Here, I will provide some useful tips for being respectful while traveling in Spain. If you make a mistake, most people will probably recognize that you are a “gringo” (foreigner) and forgive you, but it’s always better to start off on the right foot. Follow this guide to set yourself up for success.

Step 1: Know Which Pronoun and Verb Conjugation to Use

The Spanish culture is one with a fairly high degree of power distance. This isn’t only reflected in organizational culture; it’s also reflected in the way they speak. When speaking the language, you will want to use the correct verb conjugation depending on whom you are speaking to or about. For example, if you are speaking directly to a person in English, you would probably say, “Can you please send me the report?” whether you are speaking to your boss or colleague. In Spanish, this is not true. Tu and Usted both mean “you,” but are used in different contexts. If you are speaking to someone older than you, someone you have never met, or a superior, you always want to use Usted. If it is a friend or someone at the same implicit “level” as you, you can feel comfortable using Tu casually. Each of these pronouns is accompanied by a different verb conjugation, so make sure you study them beforehand. The same is true when speaking to a group of people. If they are superior you will use Ustedes, and if not you will use Vosotros.

Step 2: Greet Your Peers and Friends the Correct Way.

Coming from America, kissing my friends felt very foreign to me at first. However, this is a very common occurrence in Spain and considered a staple of maintaining a good relationship. The kiss is a very light peck on the cheek, and often involves simply brushing your cheeks together with the other person. In Spain, this occurs between a man and woman, and between two women. You should approach the other person from the side of their face and delicately place a kiss on their cheek, and then do the same to the other side. If you are very close friends or companions, only one kiss is often deposited on the left side.

Step 3: Greet the Entire Party

If you are meeting friends for drinks or dinner, and you are one of the last to arrive, you should make sure to greet everyone at the table before ordering a drink or engaging in prolonged conversation with one person. The same is true for when you leave- you should say goodbye to every person that is still around. It is considered rude not to.

Step 4: Appointments and Punctuality

Spain is slightly different than the United States when it comes to timing. Punctuality is not a trait that taken as seriously. If a friend says they will meet you at 14:00 for lunch, it is not uncommon for them to show up at 14:15 or 14:20. Spanish culture believes that every moment should be spent enjoying life, and thus they pay attention to the clock less than their western counterparts. If you are left waiting for a few minutes, don’t feel insulted, and if you are a few minutes late, don’t feel embarrassed. However, if you are going to be more than 15 or 20 minutes late, it is considered polite to call whoever it is you are meeting.

Step 5: Saying Goodbye

There are multiple ways to say goodbye in the Spanish language, and you can usually get bye with any one of them. There is one thing to consider, though, and that is when you will be seeing them next. If you don’t plan to see them for a while, or you are unsure of your next meeting, you should use Adios (goodbye). If this is not the case, you should use other variations, like Hasta luego (until later), Nos vemos (see you later) or the slightly less formal Ciao. This is not of huge importance, but you will notice people generally tend to say Hasta luego much more commonly than Adios.

Step 6: Eating

If you are eating with friends, or pass by someone you know that is eating, there is a common Spanish phrase you should say. Que aproveche/Buen proveche roughly means “I hope you enjoy” and is the Spanish equivalent to Bon apetit. There is no real English equivalent to this phrase, but it is extremely important to show respect and build rapport with your peers.

Step 7: Bibliography of Images

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