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Social customs in Spain

23 Apr 2021 | Written by David Sutton-Rowe

Spain - social customs

With holidays across the UK resuming this month, many of us have started dreaming about the possibility of travelling abroad. Foreign holidays could resume as early as 17th May 2021 for people in England, with a traffic light system set to replace the current restrictions on international travel. So, what about Spain as a destination?

Our member David Sutton-Rowe – a former town councillor in Alicante, Spain – has long been a fan of this sunny and enchanting country. He moved there in 2002, and after a few months, learned to master the basics of the language whilst renovating his old Finca (old Spanish farmhouse). In 2003, David was asked to organise a club for exchanging language and culture between Spanish and foreign communities, called ‘Amigos de Sax’ (Friends of Sax) and was quickly promoted to Vice President. A few years later, he joined the political ‘Partido Popular’ (The Popular Party) and was elected as a councillor. Sadly in 2012, David and his family had to return to the UK due to family commitments, but he still visits the town of Sax, on a regular basis. 

Here, he shares his experiences of Spain’s social customs and a few of its rich traditions. 


All countries have their own particular social customs; Spain is no exception…

Greetings in Spain

“Good afternoon” (Buenas tardes) is used instead of “good day” (buenos días) after lunch, which can start as late as 3:00pm until 9:00pm, or 10:00pm. “Good night’ (Buenas noches) is usually used when going to bed or leaving a house late at night. “Goodbye” is Adiós or less formally you can say “see you later” (hasta luego). 

“Hi” or “hello” (¡hola!) is used among close friends and young people, often accompanied by “how are you?” (¿qué tal?) or “what’s new?” (¿qué hay?). In more formal language, “how are you?” is ¿cómo está usted?, to which the reply is usually “fine, thank you, and you?” (muy bien, gracias, ¿y usted?). A common reply when being formally introduced is “delighted” (encantado/a). Older friends are often addressed as ‘male’ (don) and ‘female’ (doña), followed by their Christian name (considerable courtesy and respect is shown to women and older people in Spain). When someone thanks you (gracias), it’s polite to reply with “it was nothing/you’re welcome” (e nada). When talking to a stranger, it’s polite to use the formal form of address (usted) and not the familiar form () or someone’s Christian name until you’re invited to do so. However, nowadays the form is much more widely used and usted is reserved mainly for business and when addressing older people. 

Talking on the phone

You should introduce yourself before asking to speak to someone on the telephone. Although the traditional siesta is facing a battle for survival, it isn’t advisable to telephone between the siesta hours (2:00pm – 5:00pm) when many people have a nap. If you call between these times, it’s polite to apologise for disturbing the household. 

Spanish surnames

Family surnames are often confusing to tourists, as the Spanish often have two surnames (possibly linked by ‘and’, e.g. y or i in Catalan), the first being their father’s and the second their mother’s. When a woman marries, she may drop her mother’s name and add her husband’s, although this isn’t usual. Spanish children are usually named after a saint and a person’s saints day (santo) and is as important a celebration as their birthday (cumpleaños), both of which are occasions where it’s traditional to entertain your family and friends. 

Meal times

The Spanish say “good appetite” (que aproveche/buen apetito) before starting a meal. If you’re offered a glass of wine, wait until your host has made a toast (¡salud!) before taking a drink. If you aren’t offered a/another drink, it’s time to go home. 

Dressing style in Spain

Spanish men and women are incredibly stylish in my opinion, although they often dress casually. It’s advisable to dress conservatively when on business or visiting government offices. There are few occasions when formal clothes are necessary and there are very few clothing rules in Spain (except in respect to places of worship). Spanish people consider bathing costumes, skimpy tops and flip-flops or sandals with no socks strictly for the beach or swimming pool, and not for example, the streets, restaurants or shops. 


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