Business Etiquette in Spain

11 February 2021

Spain Business Culture

Learn essential business etiquette and business culture in Spain. Topics include greeting, dress, table manners, time and scheduling, and space.

Trying a little can go a long way.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” businesspeople are often told. “It’s polite and you’ll have a greater chance of having a successful business relationship.” But what do they do in Spain exactly? What is business etiquette in Spain? Read on and find out, for even if you can’t always do things the Spanish way, it’s good to know what the Spanish way is.

Meeting and Greeting in Spain

If you can, follow someone else’s lead, but be prepared to shake hands, exchange a kiss on each cheek (start with the right cheek; this is also known as dos besos, literally “two kisses”), quick embrace and/or backslap (for men). When in doubt, just stick to a firm handshake. Always preface a telephone call or a meeting with a polite greeting: “Buenos días” (“Good morning”) or “Buenas tardes” (“Good afternoon”) are always good choices, but note that “Buenos días” is used until 2:00 pm or so, and “Buenas tardes” is used from then on. It’s also common to greet and acknowledge people you meet as you move about an office. When you enter an elevator, greet the occupants with “Hola” or a “Buenos días” or “Buenas tardes”. Say “Hasta luego” or “Adiós” when you leave. It’s polite to greet the security guard or the portero (literally “doorman” or “porter”) stationed at the entrance to a building, as well as the staff of shops and restaurants.

Business Dress in Spain

Most Spaniards dress impeccably for business, often fairly formally. Their outfits are well put together, often perfectly color coordinated and accessorized. Even when the dress code is relaxed, Spaniards will always look clean and neat and dress stylishly. Men can never go wrong with a well-tailored suit. Spanish men may wear a greater variety of colors and patterns than in other countries, but the range still doesn’t come close to Spanish women’s fashion. The most common men’s accessories are a good watch and a gold wedding band. (Note that the wedding ring in Spain is worn on the right hand, except in Cataluña.) Women often wear smart, high-quality skirts, dresses or pantsuits, with stockings being de rigeur in fall and winter. As in other countries, dark colors and heavy fabrics prevail in winter, reserving light colors and lightweight fabrics for summer. Besides the ubiquitous jewelry, scarves are common accessories and high-heeled shoes are the standard.
Spaniards generally need considerably less personal space than other nationalities, Americans in particular.

Meals and Table Manners in Spain

Meals can be an important opportunity for building relationships, which are so essential to business in Spain. Try not to decline a meal invitation, if you can. Spaniards eat "Continental style" with both knife and fork at the same time, or sometimes with just a fork. (No American-style "zigzag" or "piecemeal" dining for the Spaniards.) They also keep their hands visible and on the table at all times. It's considered rude or foreign to keep your hands tucked in your lap. Meals are leisurely affairs accompanied by good conversation. Don't rush things. The meal itself usually consists of: drinks, bread, a first course, a second course and then dessert. If coffee and tea are not served with dessert, they will probably come afterward and then followed by a digestif. Pacharán, the Navarrese liqueur made from sloe fruit, is one common digestif. Always leave plenty of time for sobremesa, or conversation after the meal.

Time and Scheduling Meetings

A number of offices in Spain implement a special schedule during the summer - starting earlier and then closing for the day at 2:00 or 3:00 pm. Most Spaniards take some kind of vacation or holidays during the month of August, and quite possibly for the whole month. Accordingly, you shouldn't plan on doing business in Spain during the month of August. Many Spaniards don't work on Friday afternoons either, so don't plan on scheduling meetings or business during that time. The same is true for the day or days preceding or following a holiday (día festivo). A number of Spaniards may take this time off to create an extended holiday known as a puente (literally, a "bridge"). See more about puentes at Holidays in Spain. For a meeting or gathering, Spaniards may be a few minutes late. This is normal and don't think anything of it. You, however, should not be late. As a foreigner, you may be held to a higher standard. Especially if you’re German.

Use of Personal and Public Space in Spain

Spaniards generally need considerably less personal space than certain other nationalities, Americans in particular. Be flexible and try not to inch away from the speaker; this is considered rude. The untrained eye may think it sees an unorganized group of Spaniards standing around in a shop for no reason. But something else is really going on; they're in line. In many cases, Spaniards do not physically stand in line (queue), but they have a sixth sense about who arrived before them and who arrived after them, instantly knowing when it’s their turn. Make sure to ask who's last when you arrive, especially because Spaniards aren't afraid to complain loudly if someone should "cut in line". With that said, be prepared to assert yourself to get served. Spaniards' escalator etiquette is similar to the rules of the road: the right lane is for slow (or stationary) traffic and the left lane is for fast (walking) traffic. Metro tunnels are a good place to see this unwritten rule in action. In many cases, when walking in a hallway or climbing stairs, you should keep to the right. The left is for "traffic" from the opposite direction. Street sidewalks in Spain, like the streets themselves, however, are notoriously freeform. See The Cheat's guide to walking Spanish sidewalks in Touch Me. When in doubt, the best rules of business etiquette in Spain are to ask a Spaniard, if you can, or use your best judgment. Trying a little can go a long way.
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