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SPANISH CUSTOMS

INTRODUCTION

Learning a language goes far beyond just knowing the grammar and vocabulary. You need to know its native speakers. If a language is like it is, it is probably because its native speakers are like they are.
It is as important to know how to conjugate verbs correctly as it is to know that you shouldn't pay for your drink at the bar individually if you are accompanied by Spaniards. What we mean is that you should familiarize yourself with the culture of the place, the small details of daily life which define us. We aren't talking about fine art, literature, film or local festivals and holidays, but about those differences that the student perceives in daily life and his/her relationships with Spaniards

Upon arriving to Spain a student observes behaviors, reactions and procedures which are different from those which they are accustomed to in their own country. These differences can cause surprise, incomprehension, rejection or true culture shock.

The best way to deal with this reaction is to familiarize yourself with certain behaviors first hand, investigate and understand their explanation within Spanish culture and learn how to react in given situations so that you feel integrated during your stay in Spain and become a true Spanish speaker.
 

FAMILY LIFE

We are speaking about the relationship that exists in families, family celebrations, mealtime at the table, the siesta, pets and visitors to the home.

Spaniards are friendly and anxious to show it. Meeting a Spanish family is a real challenge. The greeting implies an extra dose of affection to which some are not accustomed. Between family members of the same or different sex a greeting usually is accompanied by a hug, a kiss, or a long string of kisses if it is your grandmother who is doing the kissing. Although you are a stranger you will not escape a strong handshake, possibly a few pats on the back, the arm or shoulder and women would give two kisses on the cheeks. It's better if you understand right from the start that physical contact between people is a way of communication and certainly not an invasion of one's privacy.

When visiting a person's home, it is best not to keep quiet and express the wonderful sensation that you get from visiting their home. It's not important that the wall paper doesn't combine well with the rest of the furniture or it is evident that the flowers are of first quality plastic. Your compliment will be received with "Really?" or "Do you think so?" and your host will immediately insist on showing you the entire house. You should show the same appreciation if shown family photos or the car in the garage. If you have received an invitation to lunch or dinner, it is very appropriate to bring a small gift for the host, a bottle of wine or some sweets would be a perfect choice. Your host will likely respond by saying "oh you shouldn't have" or "you shouldn't have bothered".

During your stay, if you live for an extended time with a Spanish family, you will discover some aspects which may be  surprising to you, but which are seen as normal here. It is normal to wear shoes in the house and going barefoot is frowned upon. Many Spaniards have caged birds in the house. At mealtime you will discover that although bread is always present, that it is considered inappropriate to eat it accompanying soup. It is also possible that you will encounter piece of meat or fish served with the head still intact, including the eyes, to show its freshness.

The television is many times the center of family life. Many Spaniards turn on the TV when they get home, go about doing things in different rooms of the house while it remains on with nobody watching. Often the small screen presides over a gathering of family or friends, including meals, but with nobody paying particular attention to it.

Telephone calls to private homes after 22:00 or 22:30 are not appropriate, unless it is someone very well known or there is some urgent reason for the call. It is usual for sons and daughters to remain living in the family home until 30 or more years old. This is less due to resistance to cut family ties than for economic reasons. The importance of family is not limited to what is said here, but although it is evident, the symptoms of the crisis of the traditional family model is projected to other areas of life: social, religious and work.

 


LIFE OUT IN THE STREET

Everyone who visits Spain begins to recognize how much Spanish people like to be out and about. We like to take walks, to see what's going on and to be seen. This is why it is surprising how well dressed we go out always, even to just go down for a minute to do a small errand close to home. Here what works is " dressed up but informal" We spend a good part of our income in improving our appearance. Referring to see and be seen is not of little importance. While we move through the streets, avenues and plazas of our city we feel observed. And, you will discover that unknown passersby look you right in the eye. Again we should not interpret this as an invasion of our privacy.

The temple of our relationships is the bar. What the vital statistics about a Spaniard should include, together with the time we dedicate to working, eating or sleeping, is the time we spend in the bars. They are the central meeting point for friends to play a game of cards or dominos, eat some tapas, converse awhile, watch a soccer game or just to take a break from our daily routine. They are in a way epicenters of socialization. The television set is omnipresent, with the volume superseding the tolerable levels of the human ear, and competing with the strident noise from the slot machine (Spaniards are the Europeans who spend the most money on lotteries, and other games of chance). The floor of the bar is usually covered with used napkins although you can also find a collection of other objects such as olive pits, cigarette butts or seafood shells. Any good bar incorporates this element of decoration. If you don't find this to be true, either it's not a good bar or you are not in Spain.

Spanish schools should give courses on specifically how to behave and react in these surroundings. Each region has its own vocabulary to distinguish the different types and size of foods and drinks they serve. In his case we recommend that you observe the behavior of other clients before you act. Don't forget the importance of trying to get the bartender's attention, always evasive, resorting at times to gestures and audible signals. When it's time to pay it's important to remember that we rarely pay individually. There is always somebody who pays a round in hopes that the next time another person will do so. Sometimes friends gather a common fund to pay for everything or pay equal parts of the total bill. This is most common among young people. When entering or leaving these places it is common to greet and take leave with certain familiarity although this could be your first and last visit.
 
In our conversations we talk about everything and give our opinion about everything, maybe because we think we know everything. A heated discussion instead of being a confrontation is the desire to show how solid our opinions are. Understanding one of these exchanges of impressions, spattering of interruptions, gestures and disqualifications will be a true test of high Spanish language dominance on the part of the student. When considering the use of Tú/usted it  is sufficient to say that Spaniards have always been and continue to be, far from formal and when we start a conversation with a stranger using the usted form, and as soon as we can we change to the tú form. We reserve the usted form for strangers, those people of high rank in work situations and for people of advanced age.

Some of the recurring themes in conversations are soccer, the lives of the rich and famous or your neighbors (the ever popular cotilleo), the lack of money - best not to ask a Spaniard how much he makes -  and illnesses. In the case of this last topic gestures of solidarity or expressions of concern or happiness are well received as you show interest for the story about some feverish episode or a visit to the medical center. We like oral and direct communication more than written or by way of answering machines. Sometimes written suggestions are received badly. But of course in the Christmas season we love to give and received Christmas cards.

The punctuality of Spaniards is always a prickly topic. It is true that it is not the characteristic that we most value in a person nor the best way to a prosperous business relationship,  however its not exclusive to the Spanish people. We do however always give a few minutes extra time as a courtesy to the other person.

 

RELIGION OR SOCIAL ACTS

Almost 80% of the Spanish population professes to be Catholic. But this fact is put in doubt if we visit one of the many churches during Sunday mass. We see lots of empty space and the people present are mainly older people. How do you explain then that Spaniards much prefer getting married in a church? Or that the majority of children of non-practicing Catholic parents take their first Communion dressed to the T as Admirals, girls in long white gowns? Or that baptismal celebrations rival weddings?

Religion has become so integrated with the social act that there is no way to disassociate them. After the church ceremony, of whichever of these three religious acts is followed by a large celebration and meal in a restaurant. There are additional parallel events that occur such as the repañota o repanina (in which the hosts throw candy and coins for the children invited to the baptism to collect) or the cutting of the brides liga and the grooms tie at weddings. Many people don't enter churches except for on these celebratory occasions, or for more somber occasions such as a funeral. Depending on the area of the country the culture relating to death must be respected at all times. It is not permitted to speak badly of the dead and mourning is much more prolonged in rural areas than in the urban areas. In any case it is a society that is highly conditioned by Christian belief and although there might be fewer practicing Catholics, our opinions are always influenced by this factor maybe because the education we received is not forgotten and is transmitted from generation to generation.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS TO AVOID CULTURE SHOCK

Possibly the foreign visitor finds this combination of elements difficult to digest. After a few days you usually find that what surprised us so much just doesn't stand out anymore. But in any case here are some recommendations to adapt more quickly and avoid culture shock:

- Be active. Don't stay at home. Things happen when you are out and about.

- Try to relate to Spaniards. Participate in sports, cultural associations, free time activities or reading clubs. The Spanish people themselves will give the explanations you need and you will gain confidence.

- Practice the language whenever you can with whoever you can.

- Read the newspaper, listen to the radio and watch the TV. Keep yourself informed and discover what interests the Spanish people.

The Spanish people value foreigners positively and much more when they try to associate with us. Maybe the best way to deal with differences is not to think that a custom is good or bad, but just different. And don't forget that learning a language is living it day to day.