How to Have Good Manners in Spain

“Give me a coffee. With milk.” I say to the barista. She turns around immediately and scoops out some dark torrefacto coffee. The machines buzzes and whirs, and a minute later she slides the coffee across the bar to me, without a word.

Rude? Of course not.

Manners in Spain are different from those anywhere else. That much should be obvious right from the get go. But how? What can you do to be polite in Spain? What does Spanish etiquette call for?

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La Familia and Independence

Ah, la familia. Mothers and fathers. Sisters and brothers. Cousins, aunts, uncles. Grandparents. Godmothers and godfathers. “Aunts” and “uncles”. The friends who feel like family. In Spain, there is a saying, or perhaps more of a refrain: Madre, sólo hay una. You have but one mother. If I’ve learned anything about Spain—and oh, there is much to learn—family is important. And mothers … well, you’ve only got one.

The stereotypes are (somewhat) true: Spanish children don’t leave the nest as early as those of us in Anglo-Saxon countries. The average age for leaving home in Spain is 25.2 years old (source). This is not seen in a bad light here; it isn’t shameful. In fact, even if a 20-something does have a job, they may choose to stay at home with Mom and Dad, just because they can. After all, why pay rent when you can stay at home rent free?

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La Siesta

Spain has imported several words into the English language: fiesta, guerrilla, loco, jade, and many more. But none so important as the siesta. What is the siesta? You may think it’s just a nap. But you, my friend, would be wrong. The siesta is so much more than a mere nap. It’s a national pasttime, and Spaniards are dead serious about it.

The word siesta comes, like most Spanish words from Latin, meaning “la sexta hora” or “the sixth hour.” The siesta should preferably occur when the sun is at its highest point and, thus, it is the hottest part of the day. In this way, one avoids the sun’s potentially damaging ultraviolet rays. Also, this means that you’re not out when it’s boiling hot, as it often can be in the meseta of central Spain.

Spaniards’ schedules are quite different the typical North American’s. They typically eat a small breakfast (e.g., digestive cookies and chocolate milk/coffee) and perhaps have a small snack during the traditional 11 AM coffee break when all the employees go to the nearest café to drink tiny cups of coffee and eat pinchos of tortilla española or jamón serrano. Lunch is typically from 2-4 or even 2-5, with most Spanish families sitting down to eat between 2:30 and 3 PM. This means that the meal is often not over until 3:30 or even 4. After a delicious meal involving copious amounts of carbohydrates in the form of crunchy baguettes, the need for sleep hits you fast. My eyelids are usually drooping even as I am drinking my after-lunch coffee and Mario’s father is encouraging me to eat some dessert. The bed looks soft and it is tempting, and so I succumb to a delicious 45 minute nap. (Mario tells me this is too long and should actually be anywhere from 15-30 minutes but I’m foreign so he lets this pass.)

All of this is well and good. I mean, who doesn’t like carbs and napping? I certainly can’t voice any objection to either one. However, the siesta is a nationally practiced sport and that means nothing is open. Oh sure, if you had a heart attack they might consider opening the hospital for you, but nothing else is open. You’d like to shop on your lunch hour? No can do. Need to buy stamps? Uh uh, girl. Wait until 4:30 at least and probably 5:00 because some of our naps last longer than others. Don’t even think about getting your hair cut! How could you?

After all, the siesta is a sport. One might even have to train for it. Hey, I’m up for that. Do not laugh at the picture that follows: TThis is a chair designed especially for the siesta. Why is this necessary? Well, it’s not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend approximately $2,500 on it, right? Right?

All this talk about naps has me tired. The bed is looking particularly comfy, so don’t mind me…I’m off to echarme una buena siesta!