Pace Professional

Services Ltd

IT Consultancy UK - Spain - Portugal - The Americas

Working in Spain

etiquette and protocol

Situated in south-western Europe, Spain's geographical diversity encompasses landscapes that range from deserts and coastal beaches to snow-covered mountains. Present-day Spanish culture, deeply rooted in tradition, has been carved by the many outside influences the country has endured throughout its long history. Spain's diverse and unique regions are not only geographically and climatically different, but form an eclectic blend of personalities and identities. Appropriate and effective business etiquette in Spain can only be successfully applied through an understanding of this well-developed and highly elaborate culture.

Spanish culture – Key concepts and values

Face - Spanish culture places a large emphasis on personal pride. Therefore, causing loss of face through criticism or embarrassment should be avoided at all costs. During business meetings, for example, it is essential that your presentations are comprehensible in order to avoid any embarrassment that may occur from possible misunderstandings. In addition, when dealing with your Spanish counterparts you may also find that competence and control are important elements of their work ethos and crucial for saving face. This may result in your Spanish colleagues insisting that everything is in order, even if it is not.

Individualism – In terms of personal attributes, individualism is highly valued in Spain, along with an emphasis on character and social status. Spanish culture highlights the importance of self and one’s family. However, influenced by its collectivist past, family values, a sense of identity and belonging to a group, are also integral parts of society in Spain. Consequently personal qualities, appearance, image and personal relationships are extremely significant components in contemporary Spanish culture. In a business context, personal attributes and character are frequently valued as much as technical ability, experience or professional competence. When doing business in Spain, you will find that individualism is particularly predominant in management, where Spanish managers are less inclined to favour group decision making and team orientation.

Uncertainty Avoidance – This is a vital element of Spanish culture that refers to the cautious approach the Spanish take towards new ideas. In Spain, individuals tend to avoid ambiguity, but often accept a familiar risk situation. Spain's attitudes to rules, regulations and structure are important for maintaining a sense of control in a typically uncertain situation. In business, managers in Spain generally prefer to have precise answers to questions and give precise instructions in order to reduce conflict. In addition, you may find that the Spanish amenable nature to initial business suggestions is often hindered by a considered and tentative approach to final decisions.

Doing Business in Spain

Europe’s third largest country, Spain has experienced a turbulent and reverberating historical past, including the dissolution of the Spanish Empire, civil war, fascist dictatorship and the relatively recent introduction of democracy, all of which have had a significant impact on the Spanish cultural psyche. The Iberian Peninsula’s geographical position opened up Spain to numerous invasions and created an influx of divergent cultures and civilisations. As a result, Spanish culture has evolved immensely and continues to grow. Even the strict religious influences have given way to more modern influences. After establishing itself as a member of NATO, Spain joined the European Union in 1986. Subsequently, the country’s economy increased significantly, placing Spain firmly on the Western economy map and supplying Spain with one of its major trading partners. Over the last four decades Spain’s social and economic structure has changed substantially. Today, it portrays a highly developed and stable democracy in which potential business prospects can be assisted through an awareness of the Spanish cultural system that has shaped this country.

Working practices. Working hours can vary across Spain. Generally speaking, offices open at approximately 09.00 and close mid-evening, with a two-hour break around 14.00. However, Spanish working hours have become more "Europeanised" in recent years, particularly in the northern cities.

Business appointments should always be made well in advance in Spain and confirmation via letter or fax beforehand is advised. It is best to arrange initial business meetings for mid-morning due to the relatively unusual structure of the Spanish working day.

Punctuality is expected of foreign visitors; however, you may sometimes find your Spanish counterparts arrive up to 30 minutes late.

Structure and hierarchy. Hierarchy and position are extremely significant in Spanish business culture. For this reason it is advised to work with those of equal rank rather than with someone of a lower business status. The distinct hierarchical structure of Spanish businesses means the authority to make decisions rests with the individual in highest authority. Subordinates are respectful of authority and are generally far removed from their superiors. Spanish business culture advocates subordinate initiative where problems are dealt with at lower levels first before approaching superiors for assistance.

Working relationships. An essential part of conducting business in Spain is establishing personal contacts. Generally speaking, the Spanish prefer to do business with those they are familiar with, therefore obtaining personal contacts enables the negotiation process to advance more swiftly and successfully. Establishing solid business relationships and building colleague rapport is a vital concept in Spanish business culture.

The Spanish can be described as a cheerful and outgoing people. Their warmth and initial friendliness may appear perfunctory or superficial to a reserved foreigner but in fact allows a way of observing social niceties whilst at the same time affording the time and a proper opportunity to get to know someone. When doing business in Spain, note that relationships built in a face-to-face environment are the be all and end all. People will want to spend time getting to know others in order to ensure the right chemistry exists for a business relationship. It is therefore important to present yourself in the best possible light; the Spanish appreciate people who are dignified yet modest. The ability to be amusing and entertaining is also much prized and humour plays an important part even in business meetings and discussions. Banter is acceptable but be sure not to employ sarcasm as it may get lost in translation and cause offense.

Effective business negotiations and decisions are frequently based on trust and personal feelings, as well as concrete evidence. The Spanish close sense of personal space and animated means of expression and communication can be seen as part of this emotion directed culture.

Business meetings. There may be an agenda and a starting time, but they serve more as guidelines rather than a rigid timetable. Issues may be discussed simultaneously rather than separately. Several people may also try to speak at once and interruptions are not uncommon. If this happens it should not be interpreted as rude but rather an indication that what you were saying was of great interest.The decision-making process in Spain is usually unhurried and can be a gradual, detailed procedure that involves consideration from various levels within the company. In this respect, maintaining good relationships with your Spanish counterparts from all positions are vital for success. When arriving at an appointment it is advised to present your business card to the receptionist. Wherever possible, business cards should be printed in English on one side and in Spanish on the other. You should present your card with the Spanish side facing the recipient. An initial introduction at both business and social meetings generally include a formal handshake with everyone present, male and female, whilst making direct eye contact.

Business etiquette (Do's and Don'ts)

DO remain patient in all dealings with your Spanish counterparts. The Spanish are sometimes noted for their relaxed approach to business and Spanish bureaucracy can be frustrating. However, be wary of the 'mañana' stereotype as you will find that certainly in the northern regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country that deadlines and punctuality are much more closely adhered to.

DO try to maintain a friendly and personal atmosphere during negotiations. In order to be effective in Spain, Spanish business culture also requires a sense of self-dignity, consideration and diplomacy.

DO try and use some of the local language. A simple means of doing so is in using the appropriate greeting for the time of day - "Buenos dias" (good day), "Buenas tardes" (good evening) or "Buenas noches" (good night). People should be greeted using titles such as Señor (Mr), Señora (Mrs) or Señorita (Miss) followed by their surname.  Particularly with older counterparts or those in the south of Spain. Care should also be taken in using the correct surname as Spaniards have two, their father's first surname and their mother's first surname. Normally the father's surname is used on its own.

DON'T expect to enter into business discussions at the start of a meeting. Your Spanish colleagues will want to establish a familiar environment on which to build new business relationships. This may include asking personal questions regarding your family life and background.

DON'T presume that business can be explicitly discussed over meals, it is generally considered a sociable activity and therefore you should wait until your Spanish colleagues initiate such conversation. Despite this, business lunches and dinners are a vital part of business life in Spain as a means through which to establish trust and future business relationships.

DON'T display signs of over assertiveness or superiority. Your Spanish counterparts will appreciate a more modest approach to business negotiations.

Other points to note

  • During business lunches and dinners different ranks within a Spanish company rarely dine together.
  • In Spain, crossing your fingers is a friendly gesture that can symbolise "protection" or "good luck".
  • Whilst conducting business negotiations it is common to experience interruptions or individuals speaking simultaneously. By interrupting Spaniards are showing genuine interest in the discussion
  • The North American symbol for "OK", making a circle with the index finger and thumb is considered vulgar in Spain
  • Lifestyle in Spain is at odds with that of Northern Europe: it is unhurried, loud and smoke-filled.
  • A general "buenos días" (good-morning) or "buenas tardes" (good-afternoon) on entering a shop or bar and "adios" (good bye) on leaving is expected.
  • In conversation, the Spanish aren't likely to stand uncomfortably close, but they may still pat your arm or shoulder.
  • The expansive body language of a Spaniard should not be misunderstood or mistaken for anger. • If you feel uncomfortable with such gestures, it will only cause offence trying to retreat into your own private space.
  • A tip of 5% in restaurants and 10% in taxis will be appreciated.
  • Public toilets are rare but it is quite acceptable to use the facilities of a café or bar even if you are not a customer.
  • Yawning or stretching in public is considered vulgar.
  • Meals in Spain (for coffee, lunch, tapas, dinner) are the perfect occasion for establishing personal relationships and rapport with your business partners.
  • During a meal, you should make an effort to eat everything, as it is considered rude to dump food.
  • You should only accept a refill if you are confident that you can finish it.
  • When you have finished, you should place your knife and fork parallel on the plate, otherwise it will be assumed that you want more to eat.
  • If you fancy a draught of beer, you should ask for a "caña" (small) or "tubo" (300ml). Simply asking for beer ("cerveza") will bring you a much more expensive bottle.
  • If you are up to drinking spirits, you should know that Spanish measures are usually extremely generous.
  • Your home country, Spanish football and flamenco are good topics of conversation. Gibraltar, Franco and religion are likely to put your counterpart off.
  • In the Spanish business culture, gifts are usually offered only at the conclusion of successful negotiations.
  • You should ensure that it is a high-quality item and that it is finely wrapped.
  • If you are offered a gift, you should open it immediately and in front of the giver.
  • If you are invited to a Spanish home, you should bring chocolates, dessert items (pastries) or flowers (not chrysanthemums, white lilies or red roses) in an odd number that is not thirteen.
  • Most offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 1:30 /2:00 pm (morning) and from 4:30 /5:00 pm until about 8:00 pm (afternoon).
  • Banks and government offices open 9:00 am to 2:00 pm Monday to Friday and may not reopen at all in the afternoon.
  • Whilst the "siesta" is still a distinctive feature of the Spanish way of life, Spain no longer 'shuts down' completely for the afternoon.
  • Business can be conducted over meals but be aware that the Spanish regard eating mainly as a sociable activity.
  • Spain is one of the least punctual countries in the whole Europe. Be prepared to keep waiting for some 15-30 minutes.
  • It is always polite to use the basic titles of courtesy: "Señor" (Mr), "Señora" (Mrs), Señorita (Miss) followed by the surname.
  • Spaniards are very conscious about dressing and will perceive your appearance as an indication of your professional status.
  • Designer clothes and brand names will be noticed with approval.
  • Business cards should be printed in English on one side and in Spanish overleaf.
  • It is also recommended to bring plenty of literature about your company, samples of your products or demonstrations of your services.
  • It is always helpful to provide a printout of the summary of your presentation in Spanish.
  • Personal contacts are vital for all business success in Spain.
  • Honour and personal pride mean everything in Spanish culture. You should avoid insulting the Spanish ego at all costs
  • The Spanish dress more formal than many other Europeans. In Spain, it is important to project good taste in apparel.
  • Business attire includes well-made, conservative suits and ties. Avoid flashy colors, as it is not popular to stand out.
  • Shorts are not usually worn in public.
  • If you pull down on your eyelid in Spain, you are insinuating to "be alert" or that "I am alert."
  • The family is the most important thing to people in Spain.
  • Time is very relaxed. It is wise for foreigners to be punctual, but Spaniards do not put a great emphasis on time themselves. The Spaniards often consider deadlines an objective that will be met if possible, but do not become overly concerned if the deadline is not achieved.
  • Be prepared for chaotic business negotiations. Often numerous people will be speaking simultaneously.
  • Men who are close friends will often exchange a hug.
  • Women who are close friends usually meet and part with a small hug and a kiss on each cheek.
  • Negotiations can be an extremely long and arduous task, so do not be in a rush to close a deal in Spain.
  • Dinner is usually served after 9:00p.m, so you may want to take full advantage of the siesta and get in a nap
  • Spain has four 'official' languages. There are several unique languages spoken in Spain besides the predominant Spanish. These include Catalan, which is spoken in the regions of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and Valencia, where both Castilian and a dialect called Valencian are spoken. Gallego (or Galician), is popular in northwest Spain. Each of these languages has different pronunciations and spellings. Additionally, the native language of the Basque region is called Euskera. It is not a form of Spanish, and its origins are unknown.
  • During business negotiations, rules and systems are only used as a last resort to solving a problem.
  • During business meetings, doors are usually kept shut.
  • Business colleagues often dine together, but different ranks within a company do not mix.