Spanish Customs

Spanish customs are fun and interesting to learn. If you travel or do business a foreign country, it is essential to learn the customs and etiquette. Otherwise, you risk misunderstandings or possibly insulting people. Here are a few helpful points.

When in doubt, observe and follow natives. Be open and remember your sense of humor!


My daughter Holly spent a semester in Madrid, Spain and lived with a Spanish family. Here are some Spanish customs, that she learned first hand.

Meals and Mealtimes

Breakfast , el desayuno, is eaten between 7 and 10 am. A very light start to the day, coffee and a pastry is typical. Lunch, el almuerzo or la comida, is eaten around 2 pm and is a big multicourse hot meal. People often come home from school or work and businesses close for several hours. The first course could be soup, salad or appetizer, which is then followed by a main course such as fish, meat or poultry with vegetables and rice or potatoes. Dessert such as flan, fruit or my favorite crema catalana is served, followed by a nice strong coffee or espresso.Dinner, la cena, is served very late, often around 10pm. Dinner may be lighter than lunch but still will have salad, a hot entre and dessert. Tapas consisting of little platefuls of food are typically served in the early evening. They can be cold such as olives and cheese or hot such as shrimp or tortilla Espanola. Drinks are served too. Tapas have an interesting history.

One day Holly noticed her host mom scolding her little boy about putting his hands in his lap, at the lunch table. Apparently, that is considered rude. The proper place for your hands , except when using utensils to cut and eat, is resting on the table on either side of the plate.

Los Zapatos

Think shoes while in Spain. Spaniards wear shoes, rather than sneakers and never flip flops except on the beach.

One day when we were visiting Holly, we went to a tourist destination in Madrid. The American man in front of us spoke a excellent Spanish and was disappointed that the response was in English. "How do they all know I am American", he said. He was wearing Nikes and jeans.

Holly was told during orientation, to always wear something on her feet while at her host family’s home. Spaniards do not walk around in just socks or bare feet, even at home. Slippers are fine.

Greetings in Spain

It is customary to shake hands. Women kiss, cheek to cheek, left to right. Holly was very surprised, when she met her host mother for the first time and she kissed her hello.

Standing close in Venezuela and Peru

Both Venezuelans and Peruvians stand very close to one another, while conversing. Eye contact goes to a whole new level, when you are not only face to face, but up close. It may be insulting or unfriendly to back away, so just try to go with it.

But don’t get too close in the Andes

In contrast to the cities, out in the rural areas in the Andes mountains, where you will see traditionally dressed Amerindian people, it is important to respect their reserve and keep eye contact to a minimum. Respectfully give them their space and only photograph with permission. Often a tip is expected in exchange for photographing.

Relaxed Attitude in Latin America

Most Latin Americans have a relaxed attitude towards timing. Whether it is a scheduled meeting or service in a restaurant, it will get done when it gets done – but rest assured it will get done. Meetings and events usually get going 30-60 minutes later than scheduled. So… relax.

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