In general, it is always very advantageous to speak the country’s language you intend to do business with, and particularly if you intend to live there on a permanent basis. This is true for every culture but even more for Spain, as the Spaniards do not, on average, speak English as well as a Northern European. Many companies in Spain have staff with good English language skills, but an initial approach in Spanish is more effective and it is inevitable on a non-corporate level. However, to succeed in Spain or any other culture in general, good language skills alone are in most cases simply not sufficient.
Cultural differences and customs can cause more difficulties and stress than one might expect. As a consequence, it is always wise to enquire about the cultural particularities and the way one is expected to respond to them beforehand. Those “soft skills” might not decide upon success or failure, but what is quite certain is that they create comfort, be it in the business environment or in your private life in Spain. The cross-cultural competence comprises aspects related to verbal and non-verbal communication, social behaviour and appearance.
In order to prevent culture shock and not to drop a clanger you should be aware of the following: GREETING and ADDRESSING a PERSON In Spain there are distinct differences in the greeting customs between males and females or in a formal or informal meeting. When introduced expect to shake hands; do so again when leaving. Many Spaniards will meet each other with a kiss on both cheeks, mostly close female friends. However, this is not common in business relationships where it is wisest to offer just a handshake. Once a relationship is established, men may exchange a hug and pat each other on the shoulder.
Spaniards have two first names and two surnames, constituted of their father’s first surname and their mother’s first surname. People are often referred to as Don or Dona and their first name when in formal occasion, or use Sei?? or or Sei?? ora as you would Mr. or Mrs. COMMUNICATION Spaniards are very talkative and are very energetic while talking. This energy becomes apparent in the pace of their speech, the tone of their voice as well as in their body language. So if several people speak at once don’t be surprised and be prepared that your Spanish counterparts could, and he/she usually will, interrupt you.
This is not a sign of disrespect but the way to show how interested they are in what you are saying. Vice versa you feel free do it, too. Spaniards also speak a lot with their hands; you should not mistake it for anger and what is also very important, never mimic them. Generally, people stand very close when talking, what might be intimidating or uncomfortable for you but stepping back from them will likely be seen as offensive. Even though Spaniards require less personal/physical space while communicating you should never touch, hug or back slap a Spaniard you do not know well, unless a friendly Spaniard touches you first.
As far as the conversation topics are concerned you might talk about sports, your home country, Spanish traditions and history and your family but you should avoid discussing religion, feminism, Civil War and World War II. You should be polite at all times in Spain. On entering a shop or a bar a general buenos dias (good morning) or buenas tardes (good afternoon), and adios (good buy) on leaving is expected. A popular trap for foreigners is the similarity between the words services and servicios; so if you commend someone for his good servicios, you are basically praising his toilet.
Also be aware of your body language which might lead to misunderstandings and offence. While crossing your fingers has several meanings, usually things such as “protection” or “good luck”, and is a nice gesture to be friendly, the forming of a circle using your thumb and index finger (American symbol for “ok”) constitutes a deep insult in Spain as it refers to certain body parts. You should also refrain from yawning or stretching in public as it is considered vulgar. If you want to indicate that you are alert you could pull down on your eyelid.
If you are a woman be prepared for lengthy gazes from admiring males and whistles, although it is now considered to be rude doing so. MEETINGS and NEGOTIATIONS Spaniards prefer doing business with people they know and trust. As a consequence, it is important for your success to spend sufficient time with your potential business partners and let them to get to know you. This will usually happen during meetings, as face-to-face communication is the preferred way to establish business relationships and doing business in general. Meetings are often held over lunches and dinners.
Nevertheless, they are yet formal and follow rules of protocol but those are not always too strict. Furthermore, you should ensure that your partner knows about your intention to talk about business. The first meeting is usually all about getting to know each other, so do not be surprised if it does not lead to a conclusion of the contract. In general, meetings are for discussion and exchanging ideas rather than making decisions. In addition, most Spaniards do not give their opinions at meetings, therefore you are advised to watch their non-verbal communication.
Doing so will also help you to ensure your partners understand you, as Spaniards do not like to lose their face and try to avoid looking foolish at all times they will rarely admit that they do not understand something. This is more the case if you are not speaking Spanish. In Spain it is of crucial importance how you present yourself. Along your immaculate outward appearance your character and personality will play a big role. It is best for you to display modesty, e. g. when describing your achievements and accomplishments.
Furthermore, play safe avoiding confrontations and particularly avoid insulting the Spanish ego at all costs. Honour and personal pride mean everything in Spanish culture and Spaniards do not like to publicly admit that they are wrong thus, it is better to agree that you disagree rather than maintaining your ground. In addition, always try to build rapport with your colleagues as feelings are as important as evidence in making a decision to the Spanish. Appointments are binding and should be made in advance, preferably by telephone or fax and reconfirmed the week before.
Even though Spain is one of the least punctual countries in the whole Europe make sure you arrive on time and be prepared to keep waiting for some 15-30 minutes on your business colleagues rather than keep them waiting for you. Present your business card, best if it is two-sided, to your partner upon arriving, handing it with the Spanish side facing the recipient. Although, many Spanish business people speak English, not all do so. Thus, it is wise to check it beforehand and if needed to hire an interpreter. It is recommended to bring plenty of literature about your company, samples of your products or demonstrations of your services.
Moreover, it is a very good idea to have all of your materials printed in two languages, Spanish and your own. Hand out a paper summary of your presentation in Spanish to make sure that your audience understands what you are saying. Negotiations are normally extremely long and arduous but if succeed they will usually result in a long-term relationship for your company and particularly for you as a person. Even if you switch companies your Spanish colleagues’ allegiances will be to you rather than the company you represent. So remaining patient in business transactions can be very rewarding.
During business negotiations, rules and systems are only used as a last resort to solving a problem, and you should be prepared for a chaotic atmosphere. Often several people will be talking simultaneously and interrupting you. In the Spanish business culture, at the conclusion of a successful negotiation it is common to offer gifts . 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 to show him respect. DINING ETIQUETTE and ENTERTAINMENT In the south of Spain it is acceptable to be late by 30 minutes for social meetings.
If you are invited to a Spanish person’s house you can bring chocolates, or cake; wine, liqueur, or brandy; flowers for the hostess, or a small gift for the children, which is always appreciated. Meals in Spain are a great opportunity for establishing personal relationships and developing trust, even with the business partners. Business colleagues often dine together, but different ranks within a company do not mix. Spanish men normally accept a meal invitation form a businesswoman although she must remain purely professional at all times. Generally meal time in Spain is considered as time for relaxation.
Unless an arrangement was made for discussing business in a restaurant, deals are normally closed in the office. However, after a successful negotiation you all go to a restaurant to celebrate. Attempt to give a toast in Spanish (toast from females also acceptable) but let the host do the first toast. You are only to bring a spouse, if you know that the others are bringing their spouses, too. Also smoking during dinners is much more acceptable in Spain than in other countries. It is better to decline food rather than not finishing it, as in Spain it is considered rude to waste food.
Tipping everybody is very common in Spanish culture; a tip of 5% in restaurants will be appreciated. DRESS ETIQUETTE Appearance is extremely important to Spaniards. They place greater value on formal dressing than many other Europeans. In Spain it is necessary to project good taste in apparel. If you want to leave a lasting impression, look fashionable and smart; dress conservatively and try to avoid bright or flashy colours, for it is not favoured to stand out. Business attire includes suits and ties, even in warm weather, as shorts are rarely worn in public.
However, the jacket can be taken off during a meeting, if the senior person may do so. Female business travellers are best off in well-cut suits, dresses, blouses and skirts, and they should accentuate their femininity through impeccable hair. Elegant accessories are significant for both male and female. If you get a formal invitation to a party, you should wear a black tuxedo for men and a cocktail dress for women, always in conservative colours. Business casual usually means a clean and fashionable designer cotton shirt and good pants, and of course, no tie.