Doing business in Spain

SPAIN: When doing business in another country it is important to know about habits and cultural norms. Learning about culture in advance may be key to gain partners abroad and further to develop good business relationships with these.

Here you have a few tips to start with. Note however that people are different, and therefore you should always try to read your partner and act thereafter. And remember that you are in Spain to do business; not to attempt to change their culture.

Many Spaniards (men to women/women to women mainly) meet each other with a kiss on both cheeks; they kiss in the air while touching cheeks. It is important to be aware that his is not that common in business relationships, but may happen still and you should be aware of this posibility. It is wise to offer a handshake, and let the other party initiate a kiss if appropriate.

Photo: Kristin Orset

Madrid. Photo: Kristin Orset

Addressing a person
When you in the US would use Mr. or Mrs., you use Señor (Sr.) or Señora (Sra.) in Spain. Note that Spaniards can have two first names and have two surnames; both their fathers first surname and their mother’s first surnames.

Business meetings
In Spain close relationships between business partners are important. Before doing business Spaniards therefore want to get to know you. In the first meeting, you should show interest in your business partner’s life and be open for conversations about family and background. This reason for this custom is that the Spaniards want to see whether you can be trusted before starting a business relationship.

You should also be aware that in meetings Spaniards seldom stick to a detailed agenda. Negotiations in Spain tend to be quite open with one party taking the lead, but agreements are often rather flexible and in order to ensure that commitments are put into effect it might be necessary to follow up on the agreement.

Business meals
As meals in Spain are important and usually a time to relax and enjoy one-self, you should notify your partners in advance in case you’d like to discuss business over lunch. In Spain it is common to go to a restaurant after a meeting close to the lunch time and also after closing a deal as to celebrate. The one who invites is expected to pay, as bills are seldom split. You should repay the favor later, but be careful not to express that this is the reason for the invitation.

Spaniards like to talk and are social people. You can talk about most topics, also personal topics such as family and children. Expect conversations to be long-lasting, just as the evenings out in Spain. This also accounts for the business presentations.

Photo: Yngve Ask/Innovation Norway

Paella. Photo: Yngve Ask/Innovation Norway

Political correctness is not that important in Spain, just be humble. Also be sensitive when talking about Spain´s regions and regional differences, as the Spanish people derive a sense of identity from their region. Furthermore, as a female you should not be surprised if you receive a compliment on your look. Respond with a compliment or just say thank you.

Although the young today speaks more languages than the older generations, still most Spaniards don’t speak English fluently. Therefore you should speak Spanish if your plan is to impress.

Working hours and holidays
The Government regulates the opening hours of shops and businesses. Most shops are open from 9 to 13.30/14, and then from 16.30/17 to 20, Monday through Friday, and also Saturday morning. Large department stores may be open all day. Offices are usually open from 10 to 14 and then from 16 to 19, though it’s becoming more common with business hours from 8 to 16.
Banks are open from 9 to 2 by law and additionally they can choose either to open one afternoon a week, or on Saturday morning. In August, when most people take their vacations, office hours change to jornada intensiva: 8 am – 3 pm.

Lunch is between 2 pm and 4 pm. Most people in Spain eat at home, though in big cities, it is common to go to a restaurant and have a menu (and avoid the double commute). Dinner is generally a lighter meal; 10pm is the normal time at restaurants.

There are national, state, and local holidays. When a holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, it is common in the office to take the adjacent Monday or Friday puente off for a long weekend.

At restaurants, bars, and taxis, you can tip if you want to, but it is not mandatory. It also depends on your social/financial situation and your age.

Time and punctuality
It is important to be on time for a meeting. Spaniards are very punctual, although this might not be the ruling impression outside of the Spanish terretory.

Spain has done as many European countries: forbidden smoking in public places. However, as with many regulations in Spain, there is some degree of tolerance. Furthermore, some restaurants and bars still allow for smoking.

Gifts are important as a social convention. When concluding successful negotiations, it is not uncommon to give a gift to a broker or professional (including a bank officer) who was especially competent: flowers or chocolates if female, or a good bottle of wine if male. For Christmas companies usually give employees a basket of fancy foods and a bottle of wine, champagne or cava is sent to good clients. When invited to a Spanish home, it is appropriate to bring flowers, a dessert, or a good bottle of wine.

In general gifts should be items of high quality and should be finely wrapped. Avoiding too personal or extravagant items may be clever. Too much generosity might be perceived as rare or even insulting. When receiving a gift you should open it immediately, in front of the giver and give your thanks.

Dressing well is important when doing business in Spain. Look fashionable and smart if you want to cause a good impression; clean your shoes and get your hair in order. Quality brands are appreciated. The perfume is important, and also the quality of clothes and accessories. If your party invitation says formal, it is most likely very formal. The appropriate outfit would be a black tuxedo for men and a cocktail dress from women. Business casual on the other hand implies a clean and fashionable shirt and good nice pants.

Foto: “Dinner” by Nancy Bundt –
Source: (20.09.2013)

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