Spain: social and cultural aspects


Food, family and social life

Everything in Spain is about food. People have comidas, meriendas or cenas with people as much as they can. Spanish people love eating with someone else and they don't like to do it on their own, as they consider this the ideal time to relax and socialize with others. This is the reason why Spanish people do not understand how other Europeans don't mind eating quickly before going out, or eating in their rooms in a shared flat without socializing with others. On this note, if you see a Spanish person you know vaguely eating alone, don't be shy, invite him/her to come along with you if you're heading out somewhere to socialize!

Events with friends and family

 

  • Friends - Spaniards usually have dinner with their friends or partner. It is very common to start drinking something together and to eat some tapas. That will be the basis of your dinner. It is not possible to only engage in drinking alcohol unless you want to “salir de fiesta” (go partying).

    • Ir de cañas” - This is an expression to describe the time you spend with your close friends or your workmates and drink “cañas” together. You would do this usually after work. During this time, you have fun, you laugh and you talk about what is going on in your life, discuss football or criticize politicians. Spanish people often like to claim they can fix the worlds' problems with their social commentary. Regarding the word "cañas", these are small glasses of beer that usually cost between 1 or 2 euros. During this time it is also common to eat tapas.

    • Ir de tapas/pintxos” - This custom is very related to the previous one involving “cañas”. The difference here is that you are going out to eat, whereas if you going out for “cañas” it is not necessary. Pintxos are the tapas of northern Spain.
    • Ir de copas/ir a tomar algo” - This is the expression you normally would use if you want to go out at night after dinner (11pm as the earliest time) to drink stronger alcohol (known as “copas”) with your friends and go to a disco and dance until 6:00 am. On such occasions, many Spanish people try to find someone to be their 'partner' on that night.
    • Salir de tranquis” - This expression literally means “to go out quietly”. It is used when you want to go out at night, but only to drink beer and not going back home very late (so around 1:00 or 2:00 am).

  • Family - Family is an essential part of every Spaniard's life. Whereas much family-life in northern Europe is based around the mother, the father and the children, in Spain your immediate family is much broader. Close family include grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins... and more besides. Families (in the broadest sense) generally meet up every Sunday to have a lunch that lasts many hours, with conversation flowing all the time. You can start eating at 3pm and leave your sibling's house at 8pm. It is very Spanish to finish your lunch and continue talking with people at the table for a long time (“sobremesa”). Moreover, they also meet to celebrate any sibling's birthday or to celebrate Christmas.

Other social characteristics and behaviours:

 

  • Standing very close to others and physical contact - If you know a Spaniard, he/she will likely talk to you while standing very close to you, and the likelihood of physical contact during the conversation (such as an arm placed on your shoulder or around your shoulder) is high.

  • Talking very loudly - Yes, it is true! Spanish people talk very loudly, and they will try to be the loudest at the table if you are eating with people. Everyone wants to ensure that you are listening to what they are saying and not to what others say.
  • Interrupting conversations - In informal settings, there is no such thing as taking turns when speaking and everybody talks whenever they want. In this way, if you are with a group of Spaniards, don't take it personally if everybody interrupts you, because they expect that you will do it too.
  • To pay the bill - If you go for "cañas" it is very common for each person to pay for a “ronda” (round). The first “ronda” is the first beer you ask for, the second “ronda” is the second beer, and so on, since Spanish people normally order every new beer together. However, if you are eating dinner, Spaniards divide the total price of the bill between the number of people who have eaten. It is very unfair, I know! In Spain, like in any country, some people eat and drink a lot more than others.
  • To arrange meetings - It is very common for a Spanish person who comes across a person she/he knows on the street to talk a bit with her/him and says: “ya nos veremos/hablaremos” (we will see each other soon, we will talk) and they never will call each other again. In reality, they really wouldn't mind meeting up, but Spaniards tend to have such broad social networks and this particular person may not be so close a friend that an individual would set aside time specifically for them within their busy lives. However, if you want to meet with your friends, you will probably decide where you will go the same day, as it is very difficult to arrange something with a Spanish person in advance.
  • Greetings - When you meet somebody you don't know you will them kiss on both cheeks if it is a woman (on only one cheek if you are in the Canaries) and you will shake the person's hand if it is a man. Nevertheless, if you find yourself in a very formal situation (like a job interview) you will shake the person's hand whether or not you are dealing with a man or a woman.

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