CULTURAL FAUX PAS IN SPAIN
Just when you think you know Spain, some of these happen and you feel like “lost in translation” all over again. Tranqui, we’ve been there too! Here are some tips on how to avoid making a bad first impression.
Treating Spain as a homogeneous country
Spanish culture in not all about corrida, flamenco and colorful fans. Each autonomous community has its own customs and traditions and even bank holidays. Hardly anybody outside Andalusia can dance flamenco. Of course, you can find flamenco shows all around Barri Gothic in Barcelona but the locals will never go there. These are only “fake” shows for tourists. They want to see and pay for flamenco show when they are visiting Spain so they have it.
One kiss (un beso) is romantic and dedicated for lovers only. Two kisses (dos besos) are friendly and they are not really kisses but cheek to cheek touches. Start with the right to right cheek and then the left to left cheek otherwise you will end up in a bizarre situation.
If you are queuing in a store/post office/garage, impatience is not tolerated. The person in front of you has the right to talk to the clerk about anything he wants. This may be his aunt in the hospital, a new soup recipe or results of the last round of Primera División. You will wait patiently for your turn without a single ‘tut’, ‘cluck’, whistle or cough. The point is, when it is your turn to be served, you will receive the same level of interest.
On the other hand, do not dare to hesitate at a set of traffic lights for more than a millisecond once they have turned to green!
Showing support for separatist initiatives
If you are outside of Catalonia or Basque region just don’t try to talk about this subject. If you are inside, it’s also advisable to stay out of it. For your own sake. It is very complex and pretty easy to make enemies if you attempt to follow that route. Do not pretend you know that much, it’s absolutely no field where you can make friends. Unless, of course you speak Catalan or Basque. If not, better compliment and appreciate food or just talk about the weather.
Speaking about the Royalty good or bad?
Many people feel great respect towards the king. If you are in Madrid, do not dare to mock the royal family. For monarchists it is a very important element of their identity. Something like an indicator of the great Spanish power in the ancient times.
If you are in Barcelona absolutely do not talk favorably about royalty. All Catalans that I know speak negatively about the king, treat him and the whole royal family as freeloaders wasting public money. Catalonia has an extremely strong prejudice against the King, the people living in this region have always felt unappreciated, controlled and oppressed by the powers from Madrid. First the King, then Franco and now the national government.
If you are not sure which side is the person you’re talking to, just try to avoid this particular subject.
Talking too well about the USA
I know this may sound strange. But in my opinion this is a form of creating a Spanish identity, the part based on the definition of what we are and what we do not want to be. Sort of identifying characteristics that are undesirable. This is not due to any particular aversion to America, it’s just that United States generally dominate the world culture, especially in pop culture. They are the core of the narrative in many areas: music, film, entertainment, technology. The Spanish, proud of their heritage, thinking about themselves must relate to the one cultural hegemon, the United States.
Justifying the British in Gibraltar
Never ever do that! It’s a real bone of contention between the both nations. Very touchy subject and you can easily be treated as an enemy. It is perfectly OK to ask for their opinion “as if you don’t have one” and listen politely, in fact they’ll usually be more than happy to give it.5