How to behave in Spain

‘Behave yourself’, ‘he just doesn’t know how to behave’, ‘what kind of behaviour do you call that?’. We’ve probably seen a fair share of erratic behaviour from children (and adults) during the barmy summer season.

The heat combined with alcohol can make even a normally well-behaved individual qualify for an ASBO.  And there’s nothing like a mixture of heat, late nights and itchy skin for bringing the worst out of your offspring – whatever age they happen to be.

But what constitutes ‘well-behaved’ is not an internationally set definition. There are no European directives on this. Instead, what appears to be well-behaved in one country can be frowned on in another.

To keep you informed and behaving yourself, we’ve selected a few rules for good behaviour in Spain.  To begin with, it is expected that you greet people openly, even if you have never seen them before. When entering a waiting room or a shop either a ‘buenos dias’ or ‘buenas tardes’ is normally expected.

Food is a passion and it is much more customary to share it here. The concept of the tapas is an example of this with several plates ordered for people to select from. Nor is the usual salad at the beginning of the meal something to be hogged on your own. A Spanish person will usually sprinkle it liberally with salt and oil and then everyone tucks in.

The Spanish may not wait in an orderly line to be served, but they are usually very aware of when their turn is. If they are uncertain about who is in front of them they will ask, ‘Quién es el ultimo?’ and then may even leave the room if the queue is a long one.

You won’t have been living long in Spain before you notice a difference in the way the Spanish express themselves. Louder, with more expression and greater use of body language, the Northern European can be thrown by the mixed messages they receive. One minute it might seem as though it’s the start of a fight only to be followed by some good natured back slapping the next.

This type of behaviour can be confusing for those on the outside looking in. Just be aware, what is perhaps acceptable behaviour with friends and family in Spain won’t get you very far with officialdom. Don’t expect that a few gesticulations and a raised voice will lead to you jumping the queue at the town hall. In fact, quite the opposite.

If you do want to try out your Spanish remember that the distinction between using the formal ‘usted’ and informal ‘tu’ is important, especially when dealing with officials. A little deference will probably fare you better than a temper tantrum.

We can’t all behave impeccably all of the time – it would be a rather boring world if we did. However, knowing a little of the etiquette that’s expected can help you in the Spanish community and make Spain less of a conundrum.