Spanish Culture

When in Rome, do as the Romans do...
Food and Meals
  • Breakfast
    • Usually eaten between 7 am - 9 am
    • Very simple, very fast (sometimes on-the-go)
    • Usually things like soya-bean milk, deep-fried dough sticks, porridge, steamed stuffed buns, or rice noodles
  • Lunch
    • Usually eaten between 12 pm – 2 pm
    • Typically quite rushed, followed by a nap after lunch (siesta)

    • Usually simple, such as noodles or rice, plus some meat and vegetables

  • Dinner
    • Usually served between 6 pm - 8 pm
    • It's polite to help with setting the table and preparing, as well as cleanup
    • Most families eat dinner prepared at home
    • Usually includes soup, variety of meat and vegetables, and rice
    • Most restaurants busiest around 7 pm and usually close around 10 pm
    • Street vendors that offer snacks, noodles, dumplings, etc. are open later​
  • Dining

    • Leave some food on your plate during each course of a meal to honor the generosity of your host. It is bad manners for a Chinese host not to keep refilling guests' plates or teacups.​

    • ​Slurping soup and belching are acceptable
    • Cover your mouth with your hand when using a toothpick
    • Put bones, seeds, etc. on the table, never in your rice bowl.
    • Chopsticks are used for all meals. Tapping your chopsticks on the table is considered very rude.
    • When finished eating, place your chopsticks neatly on the table or on the chopstick rest.

    • ​All dishes are served at once in a home. The host will place portions of each dish on guests' plates. Sample each dish.

    • Rare beef is considered barbaric by the Chinese.

General Mindsets
  • Deeply-rooted need to belong and conform to a unit (i.e. family, political party or organization)
  • The family is the focus of life for most Chinese people
  • Age and rank matter and are highly respected
  • Younger generations are less traditional in their dress and conduct


  • Shake hands upon meeting

    • Chinese people may nod or bow instead of shaking hands, although shaking hands has become increasingly common

  • When introduced to a Chinese group, they may greet you with applause

    • If they do, applaud back.

  • Allow senior people to begin greetings

  • You should greet the oldest, most senior person before others

Names and Titles

  • Use family names and appropriate titles until specifically invited by your Chinese host or colleagues to use their given names

    • This means to address them by Mr., Mrs., Miss plus their family name

    • Note: Chinese married women always retain their maiden name

  • Names may have two parts 

  • Traditional Chinese family names are placed first and the given name is last

    • For example: Wang Chien ​(family name, Wang; given name, Chien).

  • Chinese generally introduce their guests using their full titles

    • You should do the same

Body Language

  • Chinese people dislike being touched by strangers

    • Do not touch, hug, lock arms, back slap or make any body contact

    • Wait for your host family to initiate any hugs/touch and don't be offended if they don't

  • Cracking fingers or whistling is considered very rude

  • Never put your feet on a desk or a chair

  • Never gesture or pass an object with your feet

  • Never blow your nose in a handkerchief and put it back in your pocket 

  • To beckon a Chinese person, face the palm of your hand downward and move your fingers in a scratching motion

    • Never use your index finger to beckon anyone.

  • A Chinese person will suck air in quickly and loudly through their lips and teeth to express distress or surprise at a proposed request

    • If this happens, attempt to change your request, allowing the Chinese person to save face


  • You should wear conservative, simple, and modest clothing 

  • Avoid wearing flashy or overly fashionable things

  • Women should avoid bare backs, shorts, low-cut tops or excessive jewelry (dangly or gaudy)


  • Present gifts with both hands

  • Note that gifts are generally not opened upon receiving

  • It's best to give a gift to everyone present or don't give gifts at all

  • Older Chinese people usually refuse a gift at first to be polite so offer a second time

  • Never give a gift of great value until a clear relationship is established, so the gift for your host family shouldn't be expensive

  • Never give gifts that are:

    • In sets of four (a number associated with death)

    • White (symbolic of death)

    • Black (symbolic of tragedy of death)

Chinese people may sound angry when speaking Chinese, but they usually aren’t
History and Literature
Wikipedia: History of China
Wikipedia: Chinese Literature
Famous Chinese People
Read about:
Personal Space
  • Very different from Western sense of personal space (aka very close, even if space isn't crowded!)
  • If you're standing in line and are not getting close to the person in front of you, someone else will just cut in
  • Constant crowds: just know that there are a lot of people, everywhere, all the time
  • People will squeeze through or reach across you without saying anything
  • Not really a Chinese equivalent to “excuse me” for those situations
  • To Americans, it may seem rude but not to Chinese (many Chinese think that Westerners say “thank you” a lot)
  • For Chinese, the closer relationship you have with someone, the less need there is for those niceties
  • Pushing and cutting in line is common when getting onto a bus or subway 

Social Interactions

  • Chinese equivalent to American friendly small talk between strangers doesn't exist

  • Strangers usually do not acknowledge each other

Personal Hygiene

  • Chinese people find it gross when Westerners put a used tissue back into their pocket after blowing their nose. Westerners on the other hand are often appalled by the practice of “blowing” the nose without a tissue with a big snort and spitting, either right on the floor or, if indoors, into a trash can

Being a Foreigner 

  • Foreigners are still quite foreign in many parts of town

  • Expect to be stared at, especially if you are tall and blond

  • Kids may call you out and point at you

Other Helpful Hints



Religion & Beliefs:

  • Spain is a predominantly Roman Catholic country with approximately 94% of the population affiliated to that religion.

  • During the history of Spain, there have been long periods where different religious groups have coexisted, including Muslims, Jews and Christians.

  • Some traditions are more a cultural event rather than a religious one.

  • During Holy Week, processions take place when participants wear a capirote which is a pointed hat of conical form and is part of the uniform of some brotherhoods and fraternities. They walk barefoot and carry a burden which is symbolic of a penitent.

  • Religious history is apparent in every small town, where the most grandiose building is typically the church. In the large cities the Cathedrals are almost museums



['Catalonia is not Spain' - Catalans demonstrating in Barcelona for independence. It is important to understand the strong regional cultures and identities that exist in Spain.]


Social Stratification:

  • Historically, the royal family is at the top of the social strata in Spain which is embodied by the titled nobility and aristocracy. However, in the expansion of a modern, democratic society, the boundaries between the traditional upper classes have widened with social standing measured by achievement in areas of business, culture and public services.

  • New wealth coupled with a burgeoning middle class play a significant role in the stratification of Spain. The old traditions relating to the nobility clinging to power and having no involvement in manual labour and commercial activity have long since passed and many members of the nobility now work in middle-class professions.

  • The social stratification of Spain is now very much based upon US/European concepts of class, wealth and upward mobility.


  • Children in Spain are highly prized and doted upon by parents and extended family. They are raised to have respect for their elders and to observe family values and obedience.

  • The education of children is compulsory between the ages of six and sixteen but nursery and pre-school facilities are widely available. Pre-school begins from 0-3 years of age and the next phase is for children aged between 3 years and 6 years whereby they enter primary school. This consists of six academic years from 6 years of age through to 12 years. Secondary education then takes places between the ages of 12 and 16.

  • Once  children have completed their secondary compulsory education (ESO) they have three choices:  they can either enter the work force, go into further education via High School which is known as the Spanish Baccalaureate or embark upon Vocational training.



  • Spain is a large country with many regions each having their own version of traditional cuisine. With miles of coast, it is not surprising that many dishes feature seafood.

  • The Spanish are particularly famed for their Paella, a recipe which is said to have its origins in Valencia which lies on the south eastern coast. The dish is rice based and includes a mixture of vegetable, meat and fish. It is seasoned with saffron and various spices.

  • Another favourite is the Tapas, which is an assortment of appetizers which may be hot or cold. A typical Tapas can involve: Chorizo, Patatas bravas (pieces of potato fried in oil and served in a tomato sauce), spicy lamb meat balls, deep fried calamari, grilled artichoke, aubergine.   

  • Tortilla espanola (omelette made with potatoes and onions) is very popular throughout Spain.

  • Pincho is a traditional small snack similar to tapas and is particularly popular in northern Spain. It is usually eaten in bars whilst socialising with friends and family.


Arts, Humanities & Popular Culture:

Spain has a long history of art and culture which was severely affected during Franco’s dictatorship – (1939-1975) when many artists were forced to pursue their craft in exile.

There is enormous pride and interest in the heritage of Spanish art and the Spanish government support all forms of art and humanities which are reflected in their museums, universities and professional academies.

  • Antoni Gaudi (1852 – 1926) made his mark on Spain, particularly in and around Barcelona with his creative contribution to architecture. His style was distinctive and eclectic and included the famous basilica La Sagrada Familia.

  • Spain has produced many famous artists: Picasso, Dali, Goya, Velázquez, el Greco – to name but a few.

  • In the field of literature, Spain’s history has been well documented in the written word from medieval times including the cantar de mio cid – a poem dating back to the 12th Century,   

  • The story of Don Quixote penned by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and published in 1605 remains as popular today as it was then. It is an adventure which was made into a movie in 2000.
    Numerous works have been written about the Spanish Civil War which raged from 1936 to 1939.

  • Throughout Spain’s history one of the most traditional forms of music is the iconic Spanish Guitar music played at family and cultural celebrations across the country. Of all the traditions of music and dance in Spain, the most famous and popular is the Flamenco guitar that accompanies another traditional and popular art form, the Flamenco dance. The female traditionally wears a flouncy red dress and dances to the music holding in her hand castanets, (small concave pieces of wood in two parts joined by chord) which are clicked as the dancer twirls and stamps her feet.


Naming conventions:

  • Children in Spain are given a first name which is then followed by the paternal surname and then the mother’s surname.

  • There is no concept of a middle name although the first name is sometimes a composite of two names - eg:  José Luis

  • Women do not change their name when they marry.


Meeting & Greeting:

  • When introduced expect to shake hands.

  • Once a relationship is established, men may embrace and pat each other on the shoulder.

  • Female friends kiss each other on both cheeks, starting with the left.

  • People are often referred to as Don or Dona and their first name when in formal occasion as a general rule.

  • Many men use a two-handed shake where the left hand is placed on the right forearm of the other person.


Communication style:

  • Communication regarding business relationships is often quite formal and incorporates strict rules of protocol. Any form of confrontation is not acceptable and should be avoided.

  • Spanish people are proud and very protective of their standing and how others perceive them.

  • Boasting of achievement and personal accomplishment should be avoided.

  • Spanish people tend to be extrovert and friendly as is typical in Mediterranean culture and they place modesty and personality foremost to professional or business success.

  • Most young people in Spain are fluent in or at least have a good understanding of English but some older people may require the use of an interpreter.


Personal Space:

  • Spanish people are open and friendly. In an informal situation whether with family close friends or virtual strangers they greet women with a kiss on each cheek.

  • Men have no fear of personal space with other men in an informal situation and they will often greet or say good-bye with a hug (abrazo).


Gift Giving:

  • When invited to a home for dinner it is customary to give the host or hostess a gift: a good bottle of wine, flowers, chocolates and/or a dessert. It is especially good to ensure the gift is beautifully wrapped.

  • It is not advisable to give chrysanthemums, white lilies or red roses and flowers should be in odd numbers except for 13 which is seen as an unlucky number.

  • If the hosts of the dinner party have children it is considered good etiquette to take a small gift for them.

  • If receiving a gift it should be opened immediately in the presence of the giver.


Dining & Food:

  • Remain standing until invited to sit down. You may be shown to a particular seat.

  • Always keep your hands visible when eating. Keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table.

  • Do not begin eating until the hostess starts.

  • Use utensils to eat most food. Even fruit is eaten with a knife and fork.

  • If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.

  • The host gives the first toast.

  • An honoured guest should return the toast later in the meal.

  • It is acceptable for a woman to make a toast.

  • Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate, tines facing up, with the handles facing to the right.

  • Do not get up until the guest of honour does.



  • Do not talk about religion. The Spanish have a strong sense of religious pride.

  • Do not expect dinner in the evening to be any time before 9pm.

  • Do not plan anything for a Tuesday 13th as this is seen as an unlucky date.

  • First names only are used when addressing family, friends and children.
  • In formal settings, it is recommended that you address your counterparts with ‘señor’, ‘señora’ or ‘señorita’ for men, women or unmarried women respectively.


  • Be on time
  • Spaniards place great importance on the character of the person with whom they do business.

  • Hierarchy and rank are important. You should deal with people of similar rank to your own.

  • Decision-making is held at the top of the company, since this is a hierarchical country. You may never actually meet the person who ultimately makes the decision.

  • Spaniards do not like to lose face, so they will not necessarily say that they do not understand something, particularly if you are not speaking Spanish. You must be adept at discerning body language.

  • Spaniards are very thorough. They will review every minute detail to make certain it is understood.

  • First you must reach an oral understanding. A formal contract will be drawn up at a later date.

  • Spaniards expect both sides to strictly adhere to the terms of a contract.

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