Your first month will likely be a mixture of enjoyment and frustration. It takes time to adapt to a new way of life and culture. In Spain for example, lunch is the main meal of the day and is normally eaten between 2.00 and 4.00 pm, and supper is usually eaten between 9.30 and 11.00 pm, much later than in the UK. Of course, at home you can stick to the hours you are used to, but when venturing out for a meal you will need to fall in with later hours. It is these differences that make moving abroad exciting and interesting but you cannot expect to feel comfortable with them all. Give yourself and the family time to adapt and hopefully you will reap the joys of your new life in Spain.
One of the best ways to meet people and find out about your new area is to consider finding a local café or bar that you like. Once you are seen to be a regular customer, café owners will be willing to give advice, or offer a helping hand. These kind of places are also good for socialising, and gradually you will meet people and get to know other locals, all of which helps with settling in.
Really the best thing for you and your family will be to thoroughly entrench and assimilate yourself into Spanish life. Some of the key aspects of Spanish culture that you might want to think about include:
Surprisingly, the Spanish are generally very orderly when it comes to queuing. Well, I suppose they are quite adept at it since a queue is very much part of day to day life. You go to the post office, your bank, the chemist, the baker and you will find a queue. It is normal and considered polite to say “hello” (buenas días) to those already waiting and to also ask who is the last person in the queue is (¿quién es l’último?) - it is very likely not to be in a straight line. In my experience there is not a lot of queue barging here and people are generally friendly and chatty while waiting to be served - and that might be a long wait - so talking helps to pass the time.
Beach life is wonderful and luckily Spain offers you that most of the year. However, whilst beachwear is welcomed at the local beach bar (chiringito), it’s no longer acceptable in most public places. Certainly most bars and restaurants will not allow those in just bikinis or swimming trunks.
When visiting churches or Cathedrals it is advisable to dress respectfully; it is more relaxed than it used to be, but you have to remember that Spain is a Roman Catholic country and you should respect this when you are in a place where many people feel close to their god.
When it comes to business meetings, smart dress is normal. This of course has numerous interpretations, so in a coastal area, trousers and a short sleeved shirt for men in the summer months is fine. Similarly for women, perhaps not a mini skirt and bare midriff.
The Spanish are not like the Americans when it comes to tipping, however it is normal to leave the change to the nearest Euro in a bar or restaurant. Since a service charge is rarely added in a restaurant, most people will leave a Euro or two for the service if they are happy with it. The same goes for a taxi or other services, but you should be aware that some taxi drivers in tourist areas may expect a tip.
Believe it or not, the Spanish are really quite formal until they get to know you well. Unsurprisingly, this applies more to the older generation than to the youngsters, but good manners are generally considered important. Women are greeted by men with a kiss on either cheek, men shake hands even if they know each other well and if they know each other extremely well, then a hug is expected! Quite unlike the British, Spaniards are very tactile and this can lead to unfortunate misunderstandings between the nationalities. You may often find your arm touched to emphasise a point - do not confuse this as an invitation of any sort.
ttitudes to “please” (por favor) and “thank you” (gracias) differ too. You do not need to add “please” when ordering a coffee in a bar. Just a simple “dáme un café” will do as it is tacitly understood that it is the waiter’s job to bring you a coffee and it is certainly not rude to omit “por favor”.
The Spanish are rather direct people and will tell you if you are not looking particularly good as that’s what they think. This is not rude in Spanish culture and I do wonder quite often if we, the Brits, don’t go overboard with politeness and niceties? Well, perhaps not so much the younger generation, but is that such a bad thing? If I meet a friend who appears very tired and stressed, is it right to ignore it and continue talking as if she/he were obviously on top form?
Only by living here and spending time with the local people can you really learn about the Spanish ways. While these may often seem surprising and sometimes comical to us - maybe our customs appear much the same to them!