Over the years that I have lived and operated businesses in Spain I have noticed that the English tend not to take notice of the Spanish business culture. There are important points to note when doing business with Spanish Clients. Even when you canÂ’t always do things the Spanish way, itÂ’s good to know what the Spanish way is.
But what do they do in Spain exactly? What is business etiquette in Spain? Perhaps the following will help.
Meeting and Greeting in Spain
If you can, follow someone elseÂ’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 Â“two kissesÂ”), quick embrace and/or backslap (for men). When in doubt, just stick to a firm handshake.
Always start a telephone call or meeting with a polite greeting: Â“Buenos dĂasÂ” (Â“Good morningÂ”) or Â“Buenas tardesÂ” (Â“Good afternoonÂ”) are good choices, remember that Â“Buenos dĂasÂ” is used until 2:00 pm or so, and Â“Buenas tardesÂ” is used after that.
It is common to greet and acknowledge people you meet as you move around an office. When you enter a lift greet the occupants with Â“HolaÂ” or a Â“Buenos dĂasÂ” or Â“Buenas tardesÂ”. Say Â“Hasta luegoÂ” or Â“AdiĂłsÂ” when you leave. It is polite to greet the security guard or the portero (literally Â“doormanÂ” or Â“porterÂ”) at the entrance to a building, donÂ’t forget staff in 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 doesnÂ’t come close to Spanish womenÂ’s fashion. The most common menÂ’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 CataluĂ±a.)
Women often wear smart, high-quality skirts, dresses or pantsuits, with stockings being de rigeur in fall and winter. As in other countries, dark colours and heavy fabrics prevail in winter, light colors and lightweight fabrics in summer. Besides the ubiquitous jewelry, scarves are common accessories and high-heeled shoes are the standard.
Meals and Table Manners in Spain
Meals are 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 Â“continental-styleÂ” with both knife and fork at the same time. (No American-style Â“zigzagÂ” or Â“piecemealÂ” dining for the Spaniards.) They also keep their hands visible and on the table at all times. ItÂ’s considered rude or foreign to keep your hands on your lap.
Meals are relaxed affairs accompanied by good conversation. DonÂ’t rush things. Do not be surprised if the meal is followed by a digestif. PacharĂˇn, the Navarrese liqueur made from sloe fruit, is a common digestif. Always leave plenty of time for sobremesa, or conversation after the meal.
Time and Scheduling Meetings
Business hours tend to be from 2:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon and then stay open until 8:00 pm. Banks do not open again in the afternoon.
Most Spaniards take some kind of vacation or holidays during the month of August, sometimes the whole month. You shouldnÂ’t plan on doing much business during the month of August.
Many Spaniards donÂ’t work on Friday afternoons either, so donÂ’t plan on scheduling meetings or business during that time. Also be aware of the day or days preceding or following a holiday (dĂa festivo). Spaniards may take this time off to create an extended holiday known as a puente (literally, a Â“bridgeÂ”).
For a meeting, Spaniards may be a few minutes late. This is normal and donÂ’t think anything of it. You, however, should not be late. As a foreigner, you may be held to a higher standard.
Use of Personal and Public Space in Spain
Spaniards generally need considerably less personal space than certain other nationalities, Americans in particular. Try not to inch away from the person you are speaking to as 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 actually they are in a queue. Spaniards do not physically stand in line, they have a sixth sense about who arrived before them and who arrived after them, instantly knowing when itÂ’s their turn. Do ask who is last when you arrive. Spaniards are not afraid
to complain loudly if someone should Â“cut in lineÂ”.
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. Hope this helps.