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Understanding Spanish Culture and Lifestyle

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10th May 2023 (Last updated on 29th Nov 2023) 7 minute read

If you're considering moving to Spain, it helps to know more about the culture before moving. Areas such as the Spanish government and religion in Spain can help when researched too. Nonetheless, the general lifestyle and quirks are what you'll encounter most.

In this guide, we’ll go through the essential elements of Spanish culture you’ll encounter. This includes things such as family traditions and different Spanish dialects.

  1. Language in Spain
  2. Catalan Culture
  3. Family Culture in Spain
  4. Naming Tradition
  5. Spanish Working Day
  6. Foods and Meals
  7. Nightlife in Spain
  8. Birthdays and Gift Giving
  9. Greeting People
  10. Find an International Removal Company

Language in Spain

Languages play a crucial part in the national identity of Spanish culture. What many UK nationals would call Spanish is actually Castilian. Castilian is the official language of Spain, spoken in every region of the country. Castilian is the first language of 82% of Spaniards, with 94% of the total population being fluent in it.

There are many dialects spoken across Spain's 17 autonomous communities (comunidades autonomous). The most prominent dialects are found in Spain’s three historic nationalities:

  • Catalan
  • Galician
  • Basque

Other Spanish Languages

There are also several local languages spoken in Spain. These languages are used by less than 1% of the population and only in select regions or communities. You won't be expected to familiarise yourself with these minor dialects if you're an expat.

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Catalan Culture

The population of Catalonia are considered to be driven, hardworking, respectful and honest. The Catalonian sense of humour is often compared to English, containing a mixture of intelligence and irony. Nonetheless, Catalonians are still very warm and welcoming people. This is a big reason why Catalonia - and its capital Barcelona - remain a favourite location expats.

Many Catalonians prefer speaking Catalan to Castilian. Learning Catalan is still not essential for expats seeking to make the region their new home. However, you may encounter situations where requesting something in Castilian is ignored. Don’t be surprised to see the Catalan flag being flown instead of the Spanish national one either.

Family Culture in Spain

One of the reasons why Brits make Spain their new home is the country’s more relaxed work-life balance. Though work is prominent in Spanish life, society puts equal emphasis on family.

Spanish families tend to live close to each other for support. It’s not uncommon for younger members of a family to leave the home until their early thirties. This is usually due to the difficulty of buying a property in Spain without a long-term partner. Once they do leave, they’ll often see their families daily or regularly still - usually over a meal.

It's not uncommon for many generations to be found in tight-knit communities. Older people tend to have their own property whilst staying close to their children. Once grandchildren are born, grandparents often tend to them. This allows parents to concentrate on work whilst maintaining a close family unit.

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Naming Tradition

Whilst England uses a first name and surname, Spain’s naming system is quite different. Spaniards have their given name, followed by two surnames. Each surname comes from either side of the parental family tree. A Spanish surname includes the father's first surname and the mother's first surname. To simplify, it's the father’s father’s family name followed by the mother’s father’s family name.

This means that when a child is born, that child will inherit the male family names from both parents. However, new legislation passed in 2017 made it not mandatory to use the father’s surname as default. This means Spaniards can now opt to put their mother’s family name first.

Nicknames

Sometimes a given name is double-barrelled, common examples being Luis Miguel or María José. These names are often shortened, like Luismi and Marijose for the previous examples.

To top it all off, it’s not uncommon for friends and family members to give each other nicknames. Nicknames can sometimes be a softer alternative to a more serious name. Common examples include shortening Rosario to Chayo or Gregorio to Goyo. Another type of nickname is relating to a prominent characteristic - like Majo for a friendly person.

Spanish Working Day

Spaniards usually work the same hours as Brits, but when these hours are worked depends on local customs. A workday in Spain will start between 8:30am and 10am, with workers clocking out anywhere from 5pm to 8pm.

A big factor behind this wide window is that extended lunches of 2-3 hours are common. Spaniards put a big emphasis on mingling over food and it’s no different at work. You’ll often be expected to build relationships with clients before conducting business.

When you’re at your workplace, punctuality is still a core aspect of a good worker. Whilst meetings still go over company developments, questions are encouraged from participants. As a result, many business meetings in Spain last longer and have a more informal atmosphere.

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Foods and Meals

Spain is well known for its signature dishes like paella, tapas, cured ham and pinchos. When you would eat these delicacies is often more obscure. Spaniards will usually have a light breakfast (Desayuno) between 7am and 9am. This normally consists of a simple coffee and a small nibble.

The main meal of a Spanish day - unlike Britain - is lunch (Comida). Lunch will usually start sometime around 2pm, many restaurants not opening before then. Lunches take between 60 and 90 minutes on a workday, though this can stretch as long as 4 hours on weekends. This is a big reason behind the wider working window in Spain. The midday meal often comprises multiple dishes, which helps explain the minimalist breakfast.

Once work has finished, you can expect to sit down for dinner (Cena) somewhere from 8pm onwards. You may be able to eat earlier in bigger cities like Madrid or Barcelona. Dinner will consist of smaller plates, as many will still be satisfied from lunch. Tapas and pinchos are big hits during this meal.

Siestas

A big contributor towards when you eat is the traditional Spanish siesta. A siesta's nap time traditionally spans from 2pm to 5pm. This is another reason why certain workplaces remain open later than UK ones. If a siesta is in effect, many shops and businesses will close between these hours.

The siesta has seen a fall in popularity in recent years, particularly in larger urban areas. As a result, many Spanish business hours now mirror that of other European countries. Keep in mind that the siesta is still prevalent in more remote regions of Spain. Thus, don’t expect countryside businesses to open during the hotter mid-afternoon hours.

Nightlife in Spain

Thanks to Spain’s later eating hours, nightlife can often extend into the early hours. This practice isn't even uncommon on weekdays! If you’re a fan of drinks after work, you’ll see many folks settling down at their favourite local from 10pm onwards. The scorching heat during the day also means that the nights are comfortably warm,. As a result, people in Spain like drink outside and later into the night.

Even if you don’t opt for a drink, you can enjoy an evening stroll (paseo) with friends or family. Those who want to party hard will find no shortage of clubbing options in cities like Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid. Many clubs keep their doors open as late as 6am.

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Birthdays and Gift Giving

Since the family is central to the Spanish lifestyle, birthdays are equally important. Expect large family gatherings, plenty of presents and for folks to sing Feliz Cumpleaños. If you’re new to Spanish society, it’s tradition to open wrapped presents immediately. It’s also common for the birthday individual to treat guests by paying for food and drink.

Buying a gift in Spain is quite a common occurrence. Guests are expected to offer gifts whenever visiting a home or after a successful business project. Don’t worry if you’re arranging to go out for dinner, as it’s more traditional to meet up outside for these occasions. If you’re unsure about what to bring, try to keep it simple or offer some shared food for everyone to enjoy.

Greeting People

Spaniards have a reputation for being open and welcoming. A great deal of this is owed to their etiquette when meeting people. Saying ‘hello’ is a common courtesy, even to strangers you encounter in shops or on the street.

Typical greetings include Buenos dias (good day), Buenas tardes (good afternoon) or Buenas noches (good evening). If you’re greeting a female acquaintance, it’s normal to give them two kisses on the cheeks, starting with the left.

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Find an International Removal Company

If you love the sound of Spanish culture, you’ll want a removal company to help you move to Spain from the UK. Fill out our international removals form and we’ll team you up with up to 6 trusted partners. Book today and we can help cut your moving costs by up to 70%.

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