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Spain’s Cultural Commandments

spain_cultural_commandments_largeSpain, the current holder of the EU Presidency, is one of Europe’s oldest and largest countries. Over the centuries this diverse nation has been moulded by many external influences, but it has also exerted a powerful global influence of its own – nowadays Spanish is the world’s second most spoken language by number of native speakers.

In Spain itself, Castilian Spanish is the language spoken by the majority; however millions of inhabitants continue to use one of the major regional languages – Catalan/Valencian, Basque or Galician – in their everyday lives. Meanwhile, 76 per cent of Spaniards identify themselves as Roman Catholic, although the majority of them do not attend church.

The Civil War of 1936-39, which killed over half a million people, epitomised the schism, witnessed throughout Spain’s history, between inclusive and exclusive definitions of what consitutes ‘Spanishness’. The former definition acknowledges the country’s rich Moorish/Arab, Jewish and other traditions, as well as regionalism and minority cultures (Basque, Catalan, etc); whereas the latter rejects anything non-Castilian, consequently revering the King, the Church and the military. Finally, Spain may be the European country closest to Africa but, contrary to popular belief, it is not permanently hot and dry – the rain in Spain does not stay mainly in the plain!

The following tips are offered for doing business in Spain:

APPRECIATE REGIONAL DIFFERENCES Remember that there are different ‘Spains’, including Castile, Andalusia, Galicia, Catalonia and the Basque Country (there are 17 regions in total). Make sure you know where people’s allegiances lie and understand how they might view each other – typical stereotypes depict the Aragonese as set in their ways, the Catalonians and Basques as industrious and the Andalusians as oratorical, relaxed with time and dramatic (think flamenco).

LET SPANIARDS SPEAK AT LENGTH At business meetings you might find that people like to get things off their chest more than you are used to. Do not oppose or interrupt when this happens – the sympathetic listener will be granted favours later. You may even be able to reverse an opinion if you have gained loyalty by hearing the speaker out.

KEEP IT PERSONAL Spaniards are often more interested in you than in what you are offering. Geniality scores points over pristine, slick presentations. Spaniards are not dedicated listeners, but they do tend to watch carefully at meetings, observing mannerisms. Show willingness to participate in the jocular socialising which will inevitably follow.

SOCIALISE ENGERGETICALLY Food matters. Socialise as energetically (and as late) as possible. Relationship-building in Spain is nearly always associated with eating and drinking. However, Spaniards are not big wine drinkers, consuming only half the amount of their Portuguese and French neighbours.

SHOW HEART Don’t be afraid to show emotion and be as familiar as you dare, but always keep ‘the dignity of man’ (la dignidad del hombre) in mind. Show physical closeness and maintain strong eye contact – emotion can triumph over logic.

FORGET THE DICTATES OF TIME In recent years business people have tended to align their waking and working hours with the rest of Europe, and as a result Spain’s siesta tradition is dying fast. The norm, increasingly, is to have a quick bite during lunch and then more-or-less work through the day. This does not mean that people finish work any earlier, although a new law obliges civil servants to leave the office by 6pm. The working day is not, however, an unbroken period of concentrated effort – coffee breaks, conversations and long meetings that turn into lunch or dinner are all seen by Spaniards as valid; moreover, the siesta mentality is still present in some parts, such as Andalusia. Never confuse manana behaviour with laziness.

DON’T GET OUT THE RULE-BOOK You will not win points by referring to rules, regulations, deadlines and authorities or by hedging people in and restricting them. Human relations always beat the system. In the time of Franco it was said that a policeman approached a citizen and asked, ‘What do you think of the government?’ ‘The same as you,’ came the reply. ‘In that case I am afraid I will have to arrest you,’ the policeman responded.

BE AWARE OF THE CONCEPT OF ‘DOUBLE TRUTH’ In philosophy, this is the view that religion and philosophy, as separate sources of knowledge, might arrive at contradictory truths without undermining each other. The fatalistic Spanish will often perceive a difference between the immediate reality and the more poetic whole. Try and share this attitude.

DEMONSTRATE YOUR IDEALS Although Cervantes, in Don Quixote, satirised extreme idealism, it is important to show that you have a vision or faith to live by, and that you do not survive by pragmatism alone.

REMEMBER THE ALL-IMPORTANT CONCEPT OF HONOUR Showing deference to a Spaniard’s dignity (pundonor) and respect for his station, personality and soul is the key to gaining his co-operation, alliance and affection. Impute the best motives. Referring to poor time-keeping, slowness, political or regional instability, inefficiency, etc, may be seen as an attack on national honour and will ultimately be counterproductive.



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