The Spanish are renowned for both their relaxed attitude to life and their exuberant social personalities. It is common in Spain to be interrupted while speaking, which in contrast to the English way, is a sign of interest. The Spanish tend to be unhurried in their activities, and do not readily hurry for anyone else’s urgency.
Siesta: There are many places that still observe the siesta, which is a long break between 2pm and 5pm in which many people sleep or return home for lunch. For restaurants and other members of the service industry the siesta, if taken, runs at a different time. Larger cities, such as Madrid and Barcelona, tend not to observe the siesta as the Spanish businessmen cannot afford to take this time off, and many workers find that a shorter lunch gives them more time to spend with their families in the evening.
Politeness: Politeness in Spain does not rely on the “pleases” and “thank yous” that the English world is used to. Expect to be spoken to with short and sharp requests for either action or information. For most purposes the Spanish word for please, ‘“por favour”, is either overly formal or a sign of exasperation. Spanish shopkeepers will acknowledge one with little more than a quick “Si?” and an expectant facial expression.
Gender roles: The major cities are essentially modern, but rural Spain still holds onto some of its patriarchal thinking. Staring and commenting on passing women is something of a national pastime for many groups of men. While times are changing, it’s not for nothing that the word Machismo originated in the Spanish-speaking world. However, there are few legal, educational or even cultural impediments to female advancement in the workplace and the law protects female equality.
Religion: The Spanish are a Roman Catholic nation. While the church is not state backed, the evidence of its reach can be seen everywhere. In many towns the largest building is the church, and the cathedrals and shrines of Spain are not to be missed when sightseeing. Condoms can only be bought on request and are not sold openly as they are elsewhere in the world. Abortions can only be carried out for rapes and for maternal health concerns. That said, Spain has set a liberal standard for itself by legalizing homosexual marriage in 2005.
The Spanish regions: The structure of the Spanish government means that a high degree of autonomy is given to each of its 17 political regions. Both laws and culture can vary extensively from one part of Spain to another.
Bureaucracy: The bureaucracy in Spain is particularly painful. This is a reflection of the Spanish attitudes to contracts. The Spanish will take a lot of time negotiating any deal, running over each section until it is clear that both sides understand what is required of them, and once signed it is expected that the contract is carried out to the letter.
To a foreigner it may seem that the Spanish are obsessed with bureaucracy. Almost every significant action you take will require a form of some sort to be filled out and there is a lot of paper work to be done before departing and on arrival.
Every contract should be supervised by a Spanish lawyer. When in doubt, contact the consulates and city halls.