How to Interact with People from Spanish Speaking Nations

By OptiLingo

How to Fit into Spain and Latin American Society

Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Spain is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Spanish language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, to get the most out of any interaction with Spanish speakers and avoid any awkward moments, make sure you understand basic etiquette in Spanish speaking nations.

Mind Your Manners

In Latin America and Spain, there are expectations for how one should behave when interacting with others. This can be seen when strangers greet each other with a joyful “Buenos días” in the morning, or as they show respect when addressing others with Señor, Señora, or Señorita.

If you are unfamiliar with the culture of the country you are visiting, it will be important to do your research on what the typical customs are for your destination country. In most of these countries, introductions are made by saying “mucho gusto” (“pleased to meet you”) or “un placer” (“it is a pleasure”). Knowing which greetings should be used under which circumstances is a very important part of showing your respect for whomever you are communicating with.

Since such a huge part of the culture in Latin America and Spain revolves around exhibiting good manners, it is imperative to avoid being impolite. Actions that are considered impolite or inappropriate include yawning, resting your feet on a table or a chair, burping, spitting, taking off one’s shoes, and chewing gum. Similarly, it is rude to throw things on the table rather than placing them on the table, pointing at people, criticizing or offending others publicly, and allowing women to pick up the check.

It is often difficult for people coming from a culture similar to that of the US to a Latin American culture, as the standard for manners is different. This is why it is best to be extremely careful not to offend anyone during your stay.

Physical Contact over Personal Space

Foreigners may be surprised to learn the etiquette concerning personal space in the Spanish and Latin American culture. Allowing others into your personal space is quite common, so you should be prepared when you visit. Whether it is in a professional or personal relationship, being physically close to the person you are talking to is a part of the culture.

Understanding the accepted amount of physical touch in each situation will make your experiences in Latin America smoother. These rules of personal space are situational and are different between women and men. For example, in business settings, it is customary for men to shake hands with each other. Informally and as friends, men might share a hug. Between men and women, and women and women, it is expected that the two will share a kiss on the right cheek.

Visitors that are unfamiliar with this tradition are often surprised when they are approached with a hug or a kiss. In cultures of countries like the US, people go to great lengths to make sure that they always have enough personal space when talking with other people. In these countries, people often feel uncomfortable or threatened when others get too close to them.

Preparing yourself by studying common customs before you visit Spain or Latin America will help you better understand how to greet others. Getting used to the idea of strangers and acquaintances entering into your personal space will help people that aren’t used to such a high level of physical contact.

Being Aware of Your Body Language

Body language accounts for a huge part of communication, no matter what country you are in. Oftentimes, speakers will use their facial expressions or hands to make a point while speaking. Concerning body language, being able to understand any gestures that are used during conversation is important. Depending on the country you visit, however, the meaning of a particular gesture or symbol can change.

It is difficult for visitors to know whether a gesture is considered acceptable or rude in a country they are visiting. This is why it is important to be careful when making any motions during a conversation, as one may unwittingly offend someone. Many people that are not accustomed to a country’s culture may use the wrong symbol that can ultimately be translated into something offensive.

An example of this can be motioning to another person with one’s fingers upwards. In Spain and Latin America, this gesture is performed with the palm and fingers facing down. Similarly, making a tap or thump on the heart or chest can be construed to mean that one is negatively calling someone else gay. If you are uncertain of what your body language might mean, it is a good idea to research what is considered rude and polite before you go on your trip to Spain or Latin America. Being able to maintain a polite disposition no matter the country one is in will help visitors get along with whoever they might meet.

Dress to Impress, Not Offend

Latin America particularly Mexico, is mostly conservative due to its history with the Roman Catholic Church. This extends to the beaches, so beach etiquette is of paramount importance, especially when it comes to clothing. Swimming in the nude, showing too much flesh, or being topless is not a common sight in Latin America. Foreigners from more liberal countries usually find themselves the center of attention whenever they visit Latin American beaches. Thus, anyone planning to visit Latin American beaches needs to note what the local culture dictates and the decency laws where they plan to go.

However, there are beach resorts in the Mexican towns of Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, and Cabo San Lucas that are more open to Western beach etiquette. These beaches also have isolated beaches that are popular to naturists. Despite this kind of freedom, tourists need to consider that there may be families with children also out there to have some fun and these areas may not be open to going topless or naked. Before exploring such areas, it is essential to first enquire from the locals about the regulations of the areas.

In beach towns, tourists also need to cover up with shirts, long shorts, or trousers before walking into public places like churches, banks, or markets. Walking into a place of worship in a pair of Speedos or a bikini would be disrespectful and would attract unwarranted attention. Being perceived to be indecent in conservative areas would in some cases have dire consequences, such as arrest.