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Understanding Spanish culture

From siestas to time management, tapas to the heat and the hugging, here's our brief guide to help prepare you for understanding the Spanish culture.


“Spain is different,” is a typical phrase you hear from Spanish people when talking about their culture. Indeed, there is a lot to learn and understand for those arriving in Spain for the first time. Below are the main cultural habits for expats to understand, and the best ways to deal with Spanish time management, tapas, weather, and communication.

Time management and at the workplace

Are Spanish always late?

People usually get out of the office late, and to this extent it’s quite cultural. The lack of productivity, the lack of organization, but also the good practice includes leaving the office later than the normal time. It is probably another inheritance of the over exploitation of employees from employers during the high unemployment period of the 1980s (which is actually coming back now).

Spaniards might not have the same “timing” as the rest of Europe, and it’s not easy to explain why they often arrive late to appointments. This stereotype is not so true on a professional level, but with friends and family it still happens frequently. They just take their time.

However, another frustration is time management when working with Spanish people. The cliché is a lack of organization and late with projects deadlines. Sometimes this happens, but this weakness is compensated by being more flexible and responsive. The Spanish are highly skilled at finding solutions for last-minute problems.

Spanish cultureTapas and friendships

There is a real gastronomic culture, from the restaurants to hosting. The food, the taste, and sharing are important in daily life — tapas and tapas bars are vivid examples of this.

People get together two or three times a week to eat tapas together. The location and menu selection is usually catered to what the bar offers as a specialty. And usually everyone buys a round of drinks, while the bill is divided equally.

Even at work food is important. Most people take a break during the morning for “desayuno”, the breakfast, and a two-hour break for lunch where you take time out for a full three course meal.

From a social perspective, something also quite unusual for foreigners is how loud the locals are in a bar or any place for get-togethers. And they stick to each other, in the street, on the metro and the bus, the bars – everyone is close enough to touch. If you are not used to this it seems a little uncomfortable, but again it’s just Spanish culture -they like to touch, hug and kiss their friends and families.

Weather and Siestas

The climate has a big influence on how the people live and interact in Spain, especially warm weather.
Spaniards usually go to work between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., eat lunch between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and dinner at 9.00 p.m. or later. The more south in Spain you live the later the eating hours, and it’s mainly because of the heat.

The heat during the summertime is so high, even the working hours change from June to September. Many companies decide to apply intensive working hours from 8:00a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and ask employees to work a little longer during the winter, usually from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

And are siestas a myth or a reality?

In the past it was known that the Spanish had daily siestas, but this was more a habit for people working in the countryside who awoke extra early to work and avoid the heat.

Summer afternoons are so hot it’s difficult to be outside between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., and actually you will not find anybody out at that time. When you have to go to work every day your nights are shorter. In this way, the afternoon is a good time to recover from the heat and have a siesta.

A typical day might be like this: work from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Go out for a light lunch, then cool off at a beach or swimming pool or get home and get a rest, until 9:00 p.m. And by 10:00 p.m.  you’re out for dinner, meeting friends and enjoying the cool nights until late. Then repeat.

Stephanie Mazier / Expatica

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