culture and identity

Spaniards in general are very patriotic about both their country and the region in which they live. Avoid arguments about whether or not people from Catalonia or the Basque Country are Spaniards. Safety is generally not a concern in case you engage in an argument, but you will be dragged in a long, pointless discussion. If you are in the deep Basque Country, however, you may actually run into some serious problems.

Bullfighting is seen by most Spaniards as a show directed at southerners, countryside people and foreign tourists, and a huge sector of Spaniards especially among the youth are completely against it. Flamenco is a dance from the southern region of Andalucia, and music and folk styles in other regions of Spain like the center or the north are far different, as well as their regional costumes. Most Spaniards do actually feel offended when their country is associated with bullfighting or flamenco and you may often be considered or regarded as an "ignorant" by them if you do it in front of them just like an American would be if people associated his/her country with rodeos and cowboys.

Spaniards are generally very interested in maintaining their linguistic and cultural connections with Latin America. However, most Spaniards are also quick to point out they are Europeans and do not understand the common North American notion that "Hispanics," including Spaniards, are somehow all the same. People from other Spanish-speaking countries or backgrounds may encounter a variety of receptions from being embraced as cultural kin to rejection or apathy.

Spaniards are not as religious as the media sometimes presents them, but they are, and always have been, a mostly Catholic country 73% officially, although just 10% admit practising and just a 20% admit being believers; respect this and avoid making any comments that could offend. In particular, religious festivals, Holy Week Easter, and Christmas are very important to Spaniards. Tolerance to all religions should be observed, especially in large urban areas like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville or Malaga where people and temples of all beliefs can be found or different regions in southern Spain, which may have a sizeable Muslim population which accounts for almost a 4% of the country's population.

Despite being a Catholic majority country, homosexuality is quite tolerated in Spain and public display of same-sex affection would not likely stir hostility. In fact, same-sex marriages are legal and recognized by the government and provide legal benefits to same-sex couples. However, a gay friendly country doesn't always necessarily mean that the Spaniards are friendly to gays, as there are always room for some criticisms depending where one travels people in places like Madrid or Barcelona, which are 2 of the largest urban areas in Europe, will obviously have a more open view than those from rural areas. As in any other place, elderly people do usually have far more conservative points of view. Regardless, violence against gays is rarely heard of and Spain should be safe for most gay and lesbian travelers.

Avoid talking about their former colonial past and especially about the "Black Legend." Regardless of what you may have heard Spain had several ministers and military leaders of mixed race serving in the military during the colonial era and even a Prime Minister born in the Philippines Marcelo Azcarraga Palmero. Many Spaniards do take pride in their history and former imperial glories. People from Spain's former colonies Latin America, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines, Western Sahara and Northern Morocco make up a majority of foreign immigrants in Spain a 58% along with the Chinese, Africans and Eastern Europeans. Equally, Spain is one of the main investors and economic and humanitary aid donors to Latin America and Africa.

Avoid mentioning the past, such as the former fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939-75, and especially the Civil War of 1936-39. Many symbols, pictures, statues and monuments affiliated with the Franco regime have been outlawed and possible fines and jail time could result if you violate these laws. This was a painful past as Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist, executing many Spaniards who violated the anti-democratic laws of the regime. Nonetheless, it's also true that one of the best periods of economic growth in Spain was the one that took place during the last years of Franco's regime, so some older Spaniards may have supportive views of Franco's ultra-nationalistic and anti-communist ideology, so speaking disparagingly about Franco in front of them may be considered offensive.

Pharmaceuticals are not sold at supermarkets, only at 'farmacias' pharmacies, identified with a green cross or a Hygeia's cup. Nearly every city and town has at least one 24 hour pharmacy; for those that close at night, the law requires a poster with the address of the nearest pharmacy, possibly in one of the nearby streets or towns.

People from the European Union and a few more European countries can freely use the public health system, if they have the appropriate intereuropean sanitary card. That card does not work in private hospitals. Agreements are established to treat people from a few American countries; see the Tourspain link below for more info.

However, do not hesitate to go to any healthcare facility should you be injured or seriously ill, as it would be illegal for them not to treat you, even if you are uninsured.

Though most foreigners tend to think Spain is a warm place, it can be terribly cold in winter, especially in the Central Region and in the North, and in some places it is also rainy in summer. Remember to travel with adequate clothes.

In summer, avoid direct exposure to sunlight for long periods of time to prevent sunburn and heatstroke. Drink water, walk on the shady side of street and keep a container of sun cream suntan lotion handy.

Most cities have a good water supply, especially Madrid, but you may prefer bottled water to the alkaline taste of water in the east and south.


It is customary to kiss friends, family, and acquaintances on both cheeks upon seeing each other and saying goodbye. Male-to-male kisses of this sort are limited to family members or to very close friends; otherwise a firm handshake is expected instead same as in France or Italy.

Spaniards are keen to maintain physical contact while talking, such as putting a hand on your shoulder, patting your back, etc. These should be taken as signs of friendship done among relatives, close friends and colleagues.

When in a car, the elderly and pregnant always ride in the passenger's seat, unless they request not to.

While Spaniards may not always be the most punctual people in the world, you should never arrive late to appointments; this will seem very bad to most people.

If you are staying at a Spaniard's home, bring shoes to wear inside such as slippers. Walking around barefoot in the house is viewed as unsanitary and also an easy way to catch a cold.

In Spanish beaches it is okay for women to sunbathe topless. This practice is particularly common in tourist areas. Full nudity is practised in "clothing-optional" or nudist beaches.


Among Spaniards, lunch time is usually between 13:00 and 14:30, while dinner time is around 21:00. However, in special celebrations, dinner can be as late as 22:00. Almost all businesses close between 14:30 and 17:00, so plan your shopping and sight-seeing accordingly. Shopping malls and supermarkets, however, are usually open from 9:30 to 22:00, and there are several 24 h shops, usually owned by Chinese immigrants.

Spanish cities can be noisy in some areas so be warned.

Some brands are not available in Spain: Blend-a-Med toothpaste or Dirol Stimorol chewing gum has been available for years. Bring in enough for your whole trip if you must have it. Still, Spanish and other European brands are of good quality. Brands like Colgate and Orbit are very common.

eating and drinking

During lunch or dinner, Spaniards do not begin eating until everyone is seated and ready to eat. Likewise, they do not leave the table until everyone is finished eating. Table manners are otherwise standard and informal, although this also depends on the place you are eating. When the bill comes, it is common to pay equally, regardless of the amount or price each has consumed, with the exception of Catalonia, where everyone takes care of their own order.

When Spaniards receive a gift or are offered a drink or a meal, they usually refuse for a bit, so as not to seem greedy. This sometimes sparks arguments among especially reluctant people, but it is seen as polite. Remember to offer more than once on the third try it must be fairly clear if they will accept it or not. On the other hand, if you are interested in the offer, politely smile and decline it, saying that you don't want to be a nuisance, etc. but relent and accept when they insist.

Spaniards rarely drink or eat in the street. Bars will rarely offer the option of food to take away although "tapas" are easily available. Especially unheard of is the "doggy bag."

Appearing drunk in public is generally frowned upon.


I'm so pregnant

Many English words have their origins in Latin, which makes it easy for English speakers to guess the meanings of many Spanish words. However, Spanish and English also have a number of false friends that one needs to be aware of to avoid embarrassing mistakes. -embarazada - pregnant; not embarrassed -suburbio - slum; not suburb -preservativo - condom; not preservative -bizarro - brave; not bizarre

Unsurprisingly, the official and universal language used in Spain is Spanish español, but it is more complicated than that. It is part of the Romance family of languages others include Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Italian, Occitan, French, and Romanian and is one of the main branches of that family. Many people, especially outside Castille, prefer to call it Castilian castellano.

However, there are a number of languages Catalan, Basque, Galician, Asturian, etc. spoken in various parts of Spain. Some of these languages are dominant in their respective regions, and, following their legalization in the 1978 constitution, they are co-official with Castilian in their respective areas. Of these, Catalan, Basque and Galician are recognised as official languages according to the Spanish constitution. Apart from Basque whose origins are still debated, the languages of the Iberian Peninsula are part of the Romance family and are fairly easy to pick up if you know Castilian well. While most locals in those areas are also able to speak Spanish, learning a few words in the local languages where you are traveling will help endear you to the locals.

Catalan: català, Castilian: catalán, a distinct language similar to Castilian but more closely related to the Oc branch of the Romance Languages and considered by many to be part of a dialect continuum spanning across Spain, France, and Italy and including the other langues d'oc such as Provençal, Beàrnais, Limousin, Auvernhat and Niçard. Various dialects are spoken in the northeastern region of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and Valencia where it is often referred to as Valencià, east of Aragon, as well as neighboring Andorra and southern France. To a casual listener, Catalan superficially appears to be a cross of Castilian and French, and though it does share features of both, it is an independent language in its own right.
Galician: galego, Castilian: gallego, very closely related to Portuguese, Galician is spoken in Galicia and the western portion of Asturias. Galician predates Portuguese and is deemed one of the four main dialects of the Galician-Portuguese family group which includes Brazilian, Southern Portuguese, Central Portuguese, and Galician. While the Portuguese consider it a dialect of Portuguese, Galicians themselves consider their language a Spanish language.
Basque: euskara, Castilian: vasco, a language unrelated to Castilian or any other known language in the world, is spoken in the three provinces of the Basque Country, on the two adjacent provinces on the French side of the Spain-French border, and in Navarre. Basque is unrelated to any Romance language or to any branch of the Indo-European or Indo-Iranian family of languages. It currently remains unclassified and is deemed a linguistic isolate, seemingly unrelated to any branch of the linguistic family tree.
Asturiano: asturianu, Castilian: asturiano, also known as bable, spoken in the province of Asturias, where it enjoys semi-official protection. It was also spoken in rural parts of Leon, Zamora, Salamanca, in a few villages in Portugal where it is called Mirandes and in villages in the extreme north of Extremadura. While the constitution of Spain explicitly protects Basque, Balearic-Catalan-Valencian under the term Catalan, Galician, and Castilian, it does not explicitly protect Asturian. Still, the province of Asturias explicitly protects it, and Spain implicitly protects it by not objecting before the Supreme Court.
Aragonese: aragonés, Castilian: aragonés, also known colloquially as fabla, spoken in the north of Aragon. It is only vaguely recognized and not official as of June 2008. This language is close to Catalan specially in Benasque and to Castilian, with some Basque and Occitan southern France influences. Nowadays, only a few villages near the Pyrenees use the language vigorously, while most people mix it with Castilian in their daily speech.
Castilian: Aranés, Catalan/Aranese Occitan: Aranès, spoken in the Aran Valley and recognized as an official language of Catalonia not of Spain, alongside Catalan and Castilian. This language is a variety of Gascon Occitan, and as such is very closely related to Provençal, Limousin, Languedoc, and Catalan.

In addition to the native languages, English and French are commonly studied in school. While most younger Spaniards have studied English in school, due to a lack of practice and exposure, proficiency is generally poor, and most people will not know more than a few basic words. If you are lost, your best bet would generally be young urban people. To improve your chances of being understood, stick to simple words and avoid long sentences.

That being said, airlines, major hotels and popular tourist destinations usually have staff members who speak an acceptable level of English, and particularly in popular beach resorts such as those in the Costa del Sol, you will find people who are fluent in several languages. English is also generally more widely spoken in Barcelona than in the rest of the country. As Portuguese and Italian are closely related to Spanish, if you speak either of these languages, locals would be able to puzzle you out with some difficulty, and as long as you speak slowly, you won't need an interpreter for the most part.

Castillian Spanish differs from the Latin American varieties in pronunciation and other details. There is also a tense not used in Latin American Spanish. However, all Latin American varieties are easily understood by Spaniards, and are recognized as different versions of Spanish by the Royal Academy of Madrid, the barometer for all things Spanish language. While some Spaniards believe theirs is the more 'pure' version of Spanish, most Spaniards recognize the reality that there is no 'pure' Spanish, even within their own country.

French is the most widely understood foreign language in the northeast of Spain, like Alquezar and Cap de Creus at times even better than English, as most travelers there come from France.

Locals will appreciate any attempts you make to speak their language. For example, know at least the Castilian for "good morning" buenos días and "thank you" gracias.

Spain is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement, which governs its visa policies. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of nations with whom the European Union has special treaties. There are no border controls between Spain and other Schengen Agreement nations, making travel less complicated.

As of May 2004 citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into Spain. Note that citizens of these countries except EU nationals must not stay longer than three months in any 180 day period in any country covered by the Schengen Agreement and they and must not work in Spain: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela.

For Latin American people, especially those from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, and in some cases Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela, you need to have a hotel reservation confirmed, and international insurance for at least 30.000 EURO; if your trip is from 1-9 days you need €514, for each additional day €57 and a return air ticket.

Venezuelan credit cards are not accepted like funds for immigration due to the currency exchange control in this country.


Spain is a safe country, but you should take some basic precautions encouraged in the entire world:

Thieves prefer stealth to direct confrontation so it is unlikely that you will be hurt in the process, but exercise caution all the same.

There have been instances where thieves on motorbikes drive by women and grab their purses, so keep a tight hold on yours even if you don't see anyone around.

Try not to show the money you have in your wallet or purse.

Always watch your bag or purse in touristic places, buses, trains and meetings. A voice message reminding that is played in most of the bus/train stations and airports.

Do not carry large amounts of money with you, unless needed. Use your credit card Spain is the first country in number of cash points and most shops/restaurants accept it. Of course, use it with caution.

Beware of pickpockets when visiting areas with large numbers of people, like crowded buses or the Puerta del Solin Madrid. If you report a thief, people are generally helpful.

Don't hesitate to report crimes to local police.

In general, you must bear in mind that those areas with a larger number of foreign visitors, like some crowded vacation resorts in the East Coast, are much more likely to attract thieves than places which are not so popular among tourists.

Avoid gypsy women offering rosemary, refuse it always; they will read your future, ask for some money, and your pocket will probably be picked. Some gypsy women will also approach you on the street repeating "Buena suerte" "good luck" as a distraction for another gypsy woman to try to pickpocket you. Avoid them at all costs.

A great tourist attraction is the Flea Market el Rastro in Madrid on the weekends. However, as it is nearly standing room only - it is also an attraction for pickpockets. They operate in groups... be extremely cautious in these tight market type environments as it is very common to be targeted... especially if you stand out as a tourist or someone with money. Try to blend in and not stand out and you will likely not be at as much risk.

Women who carry purses should always put the straps across their bodies. Always hold on to the purse itself and keep it in front of your body. Keep one hand on the bottom, as pickpockets can otherwise slit the bottom without you ever knowing.

Never place anything on the back of a chair or on the floor next to you, keep it on your person always.

If you must use an ATM, do not flash the money you have just picked up.

other things you should know

Spanish cities can be LOUD at night, especially on weekends.

All stores, hotels and restaurants should have an official complaint form, in case you need it.

The emergency telephone number police, firefighters, ambulances is 112. You may call it from any phone at no cost, in case you need to.


There are four kinds of police:

'Policía Municipal' or 'Local' metropolitan police, In Barcelona: Guardia Urbana. Uniforms change from town to town, but they use to wear black or blue clothes with pale blue shirt and a blue cap or white helmet with a checkered white-and-blue strip. This kind of police keeps order and rules the traffic inside cities, and they are the best people in case you are lost and need some directions. Although you can't officially report theft to them, they will escort you to 'Policia Nacional' headquarters if required, and they will escort the suspects to be arrested also, if needed.

'Policía Nacional' wear dark blue clothes and blue cap sometimes replaced by a baseball-like cap, unlike Policía Municipal, they do not have a checkered flag around their cap/helmet. Inside cities, all offenses/crimes should be reported to them, although the other police corps would help anyone who needs to report an offense.

'Guardia Civil' keeps the order outside cities, in the country, and regulates traffic in the roads between cities. You would probably see them guarding official buildings, or patrolling the roads. They wear plain green military-like clothes; some of them wear a strange black helmet 'tricornio' resembling a toreador cap, but most of them use green caps or white motorcycle helmets.

Given that Spain has a high grade of political autonomy released to its regional governments, four of them have created regional law forces: the Policía Foral in Navarre, the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country or the Mossos d'Esquadra in Catalonia. These forces have the almost the same competences as the Policía Nacional in their respective territories.

All kinds of police also wear high-visibility clothing "reflective" jackets while directing traffic, or in the road.


On 21 December 2010, the Spanish Parliament approved a law prohibiting smoking in all indoor public and work places and near hospitals and in playgrounds, becoming effective on 2 January 2011. Smoking is now banned in all enclosed public spaces and places of work, in public transportation, and in outdoor public places near hospitals and in playgrounds. Smoking is also banned in outdoor sections of bars and restaurants. Smoking is banned in television broadcasts as well.


In Spain possession and consumption of illegal drugs at private places is not prosecuted. Taking drugs in public and possession, for personal use, will be fined from €300 to €3000 depending of the drug and the quantity that you carry on, you will not get arrested unless you have large quantities destined for street sale.