If you’re looking to buy a Spanish property and move abroad, it goes without saying that you’ll want to enjoy living in Spain to the max. This might include strolling from your beach side apartment to take a dip in the ocean, watching the sunset from your terrace with a glass of sangria in hand, or hopping into your car to go and explore the Iberian peninsula, such as Altea, Alicante’s beautiful old town (“casco antiguo”), or Ontinyent, Valencia’s amazing natural pools (“pou clar” in Valencian, or “pozo claro” in Spanish.)
That said though, it’s useful to remember that moving to Spain involves a bit of a transition period too. To get the most out of life in Spain, as well as to perform everyday tasks like going shopping, ordering in restaurants, paying taxes or talking to your neighbours, you’ll need to be comfortable with understanding a little Spanish. In addition, you might find it helpful to learn about what’s considered socially normal and polite, and what to say and do in some typical situations to help you settle.
We’ve covered a few key elements of etiquette and manners to consider when you’re living in Spain.
Perhaps the most important thing to note about social etiquette in Spain is that Spaniards are an incredibly friendly, sociable people. Spaniards love to chat, and it’s perfectly normal for someone to bump into a friend, neighbour or acquaintance in the street, and spend the next half an hour talking with them.
Indeed, when you’re moving to Spain, and especially a large, metropolitan city such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or Bilbao, you’ll immediately notice that the streets are filled with life. What’s more, you’ll quickly spot that, when Spaniards chat, they love to chat loudly.
So, when you’re moving to Spain, a great tip for social etiquette is to get stuck in and join the conversation! If you don’t yet speak Spanish, look for some free conversation exchange (“intercambio”) meetings online.
You’ll meet people from all walks of life, and quickly pick up the basics, such as “Hola, buenos días” (“Hello, good morning”) or “¡Hasta la próxima, amigo!” (“Until the next time, friend!”) In addition, you never know, you might meet a friend for life, who’ll most likely quickly invite you round to their place for dinner, or to meet their friendship circle.
Spanish manners in bars and restaurants
Another thing to bear in mind about Spanish manners and social norms is that Spain is a far less formal place than the UK. Spaniards don’t pay so much attention to their Ps and Qs, whether that’s when they’re speaking to a friend, or ordering drinks in a bar.
For example, it’s quite normal for someone to enter a bar, and say “Dame una coca-cola” (“Give me a coca-cola”) without saying either “Hola” (“Hello”) or “Por favor” (“Please”). If you’re spoken to this way, don’t be offended, it’s just a more relaxed culture.
That said, don’t feel like you must give up your English etiquette if it makes you uncomfortable - you might sound a bit funny to most Spaniards, and you’ll almost certainly stand out as an “extranjero” (“foreigner”), but so long as you’re friendly and respectful, they won’t mind.
Etiquette in banks, the post office, and public administrative buildings
There are other tips about social manners to learn in Spain, when you’re at the bank, post office or public administration buildings too. For example, when you visit your local branch of the Royal Mail in the UK, it’s normal to form an orderly queue, and it’s immediately clear who’s last in the line.
By comparison, when Spaniards are waiting at the post office, they’ll likely be spread around the room, and it’s not obvious who you’re behind. To find out, you must shout “¿Quién es el último?” (“Who’s the last one”?) and someone will shout “Yo” (“Me”). That’s who you’re behind.
In addition, when you’re resolving an issue at the bank or public administration in Spain, it’s good practice to bring every conceivably relevant document you can think of, with photocopies. This might include your passport, NIE (“Número de Identidad de Extranjero” or “Foreigner’s Identification Number”), plus multiple copies of the documents related to the issue you’re resolving.
This is because you never know what you’ll be asked for, and Spain’s “funcionarios” (“civil servants”) often like to look at everything. However, this process can be a lottery, and will depend on who you speak to and where.
Tips for integrating in Spain
Lastly, another piece of handy advice about social etiquette in Spain is to show that you want to integrate into Spanish society and learn about the country you’ve moved to. Spain is a country with an incredibly rich culture and history, well beyond the tourist attractions the beach, bull fights, sangria and flamenco.
For example, there’s Galicia in the North-West, which is a Celtic region not dissimilar from Scotland, where Spaniards wear kilts and play the bagpipes. Or there’s Andalusia in the South, with its Mudéjar, Arab-influenced architecture in Granada or Seville.
When you move to Spain with an open mind, you’ll discover a warm, generous people, happy to help you learn the language and integrate, to make living in Spain a tremendous success. You’ll find that life in Spain is a lot different from the UK, from the warmer climate, vibrant social life in the street, relaxed attitudes in bars and restaurants, plus bureaucracy at the bank.
However, by embracing these changes and going with the flow, you’ll quickly pick up the local etiquette and manners, and find that there’s more to discover and enjoy than you’d ever thought of.
For more useful tips about moving to Spain, download our handy Moving to Spain Guide, by clicking the button below.