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The People

Personal pride and individualism are highly valued, as are character and breeding. Modesty is valued over assertiveness. Flaunting superiority, intelligence and ability is not appreciated. People strive to project affluence and social position. Personal appearance, image and human relationships are very important.

Meeting and Greeting

  • Shake hands with everyone present--men, women and children--at a business or social meeting. Shake hands again when leaving.
  • Men may embrace each other when meeting (friends and family only).
  • Women may kiss each other on the cheek and embrace.

Body Language

  • Never touch, hug or back slap a Spaniard you do not know well, unless a friendly Spaniard touches you first.
  • Generally, Spaniards stand very close when talking.
  • Spaniards speak a lot with their hands. Never mimic them.

Corporate Culture

  • Spaniards do not take punctuality for business meetings seriously, but expect that you will be on time; call with an explanation if you are delayed.
  • Spain is not a meeting culture. Meetings are to communicate instructions or to save time.
  • Spaniards will want to spend time getting to know you and establishing chemistry before doing business. Personal qualities are valued over technical ability, professionalism or competence.
  • Typically, Spanish is the language of business, but most large companies conduct business in English and Spanish. You cannot expect English to be widely spoken. Check ahead to determine if an interpreter is needed.
  • Spaniards' lack of trust in institutions produces a constant atmosphere of crisis and emergency.
  • Spaniards like making decisions on their own. Do not impose a decision in direct language. It could be humiliating to your associates.
  • The organizational chart is social, not functional. The third or fourth level down may be more powerful than those at the top.

Dining and Entertainment

  • It is acceptable and common to be late by 30 minutes in southern Spain and 15 minutes in northern Spain for social meetings. Never be late for a bullfight.
  • Lunches/dinners are a vital part of business used to establish a relationship, to see if the chemistry is correct and to develop trust.
  • Attempt to give a toast in Spanish. Be brief when toasting. It is acceptable for women to give toasts.
  • Tip everyone for everything.
  • No bread and butter plate is used. Bread is set directly on the table. Restaurants generally charge for bread by the piece.
  • Spaniards don't waste food. It is better to decline food rather than leave it on your plate.


  • Appearance is extremely important to Spaniards. They dress elegantly, even for casual occasions.
  • Dress conservatively. Avoid bright or flashy colors.
  • Shoes are the most important element of dress. Shabby looking shoes can ruin a very nice outfit.
  • For business, men should wear jackets and ties, even in warm weather. If the senior person takes his/her jacket off during a meeting, you may do so, too.
  • Women should wear dresses, blouses and skirts.


  • When invited to someone's home, always bring a small, wrapped gift for the hostess.
  • Open a gift immediately upon receiving it in the presence of the host.
  • Give: pastries, cakes, chocolates, flowers (red roses connote passion, yellow roses infidelity; give an odd number of flowers).
  • Do not give: chrysanthemums, dahlias or 13 flowers (unlucky number).
  • Gifts are normally not exchanged at business meetings, but small gifts may be appropriate at the successful conclusion of negotiations. Do not give a gift at the first meeting.
  • Do not give a gift until meetings are finished, and then give only a token gift. Be careful not to imply a bribe.
  • Give: desk items, books, art, music.

Helpful Hints

  • Expect to be interrupted when speaking.
  • Be patient. Nothing is done in a hurry. Spanish trademarks are procrastination and delay.

Especially for Women

  • Foreign women are accepted in the business community. Establish credentials and ability immediately.
  • Traditionally, a macho and chauvinistic behavior toward women has persisted, known as machismo. This has changed drastically over the last few years.
  • Be aware of eye contact. Returning a man's gaze may be interpreted as flirting or a show of interest.
  • Do not dine alone in a restaurant or bar at night. However, it is acceptable to do so at lunch.
  • It is acceptable for a visiting businesswoman to invite a businessman to dinner. However, realize it is very difficult for women to pay for a man's meal. Spanish men expect to pay. Speak to the maitre d' or waiter in advance if you wish to pay.
Adapted from material compiled by Window on the World, a cross-cultural training and consulting firm. Originally based on material contained in the "Put Your Best Foot Forward" series of books by Mary Murray Bosrock.
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