Doing Business in Spain
Most of the population of Spain speaks Spanish, which is better known as “Castellano”, although other official languages exist in different parts of the country. Amongst these are: Galicia, Basque, Catalan, Valencian and Aranese. But you need not worry: even if you are conducting business in one of these parts of the country, you will be able to communicate in Spanish with most people. Spanish people’s level of English can vary from proficient to very basic. You should prepare yourself for the fact that even business men and women might not speak English at all. It is, thus, recommended to hire an interpreter if you are not a Spanish speaker.
Spanish names are usually very long - being composed of two first names followed by two surnames (The father’s and mother’s family names). An illuminating example of this is the following typical Spanish name: Carlos Jesus Rojas Herrera. Another common way to address people is through the word “Don” for men and “Doña” for women, followed by their first name. This symbolises respect and can be used in formal occasions. It is also correct to address man with “Señor Don” and the complete name of the person (name and surname). However, be careful not to use the word “Señor/Señora/Señorita” with the first name or “Don/Doña” with the surname, as this would be a mistake. Both ways of addressing can be used in verbal as well as written communication.
Meeting and Greeting
When meeting for the first time a firm hand-shake and good eye-contact is appropriate. However when people become well-acquainted with each other, it is common to say “hello” and “goodbye” with a friendly hug and a little slap on the back for men, and with two kisses for women (similar to the French style of greeting). It is recommended to arrive on time to meetings. In the past Spanish people were thought of as not being punctual. However, the customs of the Spanish people have changed considerably during the last few years and the Spanish are nowadays as punctual as the peoples of any other European country. Some payments or business procedures can take very long.Presentation cards are widely used; they are usually given at the first meeting. It is recommended to have them printed in both Spanish and English. Business cards should usually include all your degrees and professional certifications, as this shows the expertise and capacity of the person in their area. It is also recommended to hand in a presentation card with the Spanish side facing the recipient. Spanish people tend to speak loudly and to make an extensive use of body language in conversation. This should not be taken as an expression of anger. Spanish people go straight to the point and will expect you to do the same. In meetings it is common that many people speak at the same time or that a person is interrupted when speaking. This should not be interpreted as an offence, as it is a matter just a cultural difference. It is acceptable to discuss business during dinner or in a café.
The dining protocols are the same as in the rest of Europe. Much of the food, including fruit, is eaten with a knife and fork. A tip of 5% in restaurants is considered enough. Tipping in other situations follows the same rules as in other European countries. Lunch and dinner times in Spain are usually later than in many other European countries. Lunch time is between 2 and 3 p.m., while Dinner time is between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. (or even later). Dinner in Spain is as important as lunch. It is appropriate to arrive on time if invited to a lunch, dinner or party as the host might be waiting for you to start the event. Different from other Spanish speaking countries the toilets are called “servicios” (services).If you do not wish to be served more food you can express this by placing your fork and knife parallel to each other with the handles facing to the right.
In many social occasions such as dinner, theatre, etc, the dressing style tends to be more casual than in other European countries, which is probably due to the hot Spanish weather.
Avoid starting conversation about politics and football, since they are very controversial topics and can lead to endless arguments. A good conversational topic can be your country’s traditions and customs or football. It is common for Spanish people to amiably slap others’ shoulders or arm when having an informal conversation.
In Spain if you receive a present you are expected to open it immediately and act as if you are pleasantly surprised. It is acceptable to give presents to business partners. It is common to send cards or little presents to business partners on Christmas and New Year. Red flowers mean love and can lead to misinterpretations.
National holidays and useful information
You can expect most offices and some businesses to be close on the following days:
- Jueves y viernes santo (Holy Thursday and Good Friday): It is traditional to have “Procesiones” on these days, which represent the death of Jesus Christ.
- May 1st “Día del trabajo” (work day).
- August 15th: “Día de la Virgen the Agosto”: On this day the assumption of the Virgin is celebrated. In many parts of the country there is a big fair.
- October 12th “Día de la hispanidad”: America’s discovery is celebrated on this day. It is also the day of the “Virgen del Pilar”, which is the most important Virgin in Spain.
- December 6th “Día de la constitución”: In this day the approval of the constitution is celebrated.
- December 8th: “Día de la inmaculada concepción”: This is a religious holiday.
- December 24th and 25th “Nochebuena y Navidad”: Christmas celebration.
- December 31st “Año Nuevo” (New Year’s Eve): During the last twelve seconds of the old year one grape is eaten per second (each one represents a month of the year which is coming), with a wish being made for each of the grapes consumed. At twelve o’clock people go to the church to a service call “Misa del Gallo” (Roast Service).
Other traditional days
January 6th “Dia de Reyes” (Wisemen’s day): Similar to Santa Claus’s tradition in other countries, parents buy toys for their children and put them in secret in the living room late at night on January 5th. Some people celebrate this day with their families with a traditional hot chocolate and “Rosca de Reyes” (traditional Spanish bread).
December 28th “Día de los inocentes” (Innocent’s day): Day in which it is acceptable to make practical jokes to everyone. You shouldn’t believe anything you are told this day and you should not lend money to anyone, as you risk never receiving it back.
Working hours and opening times
- The “siesta”, which is an afternoon nap after lunch, intended for relaxation from work, is not very common nowadays. Nevertheless, some businesses, especially shops, close at lunch time for two or three hours and open again during the afternoon. In general, businesses open from 10:00 to 1:30-2:00 p.m. and open again in the afternoon at 4:00-5:00 until 8:00-9:00 p.m.
- Offices open from Monday to Friday at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. having lunch from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. approximately.
- Banks and government offices tend to close early in the afternoon (around 2 or 3 p.m.) from Monday to Friday.
- Restaurants, bars and clubs can be open until very late at night, with some of them not even closing at all. Many businesses are opened on Saturday, but not on Sunday.
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