Visiting Spain soon on a school trip? The Spanish are usually pretty laidback, but it’s always a good idea to familiarise yourself and your students with the local etiquette, to ensure you don’t risk inadvertently causing offence!
The Spanish like to dress elegantly and frown on overly casual attire which can be seen at best as inappropriate and at worst as offensive.
For example, if you are visiting the coast, you should only wear your bathing suit on the beach. If you plan on wandering into town for some lunch, make sure you cover up. In some places, you can actually be fined for walking around town in just your bathing suit!
And make sure you wear appropriate footwear – Spaniards usually keep their flip-flops (which really are only appropriate for a day at the beach) on until just before they reach the sea.
It’s also important to ensure you’re appropriately dressed if you plan on visiting any churches. For both sexes this means covering the knees and shoulders – it might be worth taking a shawl with you to cover up. Men should also remove their hats upon entering a church.
In Spanish, there are two words for ‘you’ – the informal ‘tu’ and the formal ‘usted’. If you don’t know someone very well, or they are older than you, or you’re just not sure which form to use, use ‘usted’.
You need to establish a relationship with someone before you can call them by their first name (unless, of course, they invite you to). So you should start by addressing them as ‘Señor [their last name]’ if they’re male, or ‘Señora [their last name]’ if they’re female. Don’t use ‘señorita’ – it’s considered old fashioned.
Alternatively, you could address them as ‘Don [their first name]’ if they’re male or Doña [their first name]’ if they’re female. Don’t use this honorific solely with their family name, if you only know their family name you should use señor/señora instead.
The first thing to say about dining in Spain is that mealtimes are quite different to the UK. Breakfast is around 8am – 9am, with lunch usually starting around 2pm (and certainly no earlier than 1.30pm). The evening meal is usually taken around 9pm during the week, and from around 10pm at the weekend.
You may be able to find restaurants open outside of these times, but they may not be of the highest quality. Having said that, most establishments do offer tapas or sandwiches even when the kitchen is closed.
When you do sit down to your meal, you may be given a basket of bread. This isn’t free and usually costs around €1-4 – feel free to refuse it if you do not want it. If you do choose to enjoy the bread, you may wonder where the bread plate, butter and butter knife are… Your bread should be rested on the side of your main plate, or on the table next to your plate. And please don’t ask for butter – try a little olive oil instead!
You should keep your hands visible at all times – rest your wrists on the table and never in your lap.
You will be expected to finish everything on your plate – so don’t take more than you’re sure you can eat!
When you are finished you will need to ask the waiter for the bill, as it won’t be brought to you automatically – this is regarded as very rude in Spain. You can use the phrase 'la cuenta por favor' to ask for the bill.
And you don’t need to worry about tipping as it’s not particularly expected. If the service has been good, round up to the next euro, or even leave a couple of euros, but no more than that.
If you are invited to a Spaniards house for dinner, you should take a present round for the host(s). This could be a nice bottle of wine, some chocolates, or even some pastries from a good patisserie. You could also take some flowers.
And if your host(s) has children, they’ll be thrilled if you take a little something for them too.