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Appropriate Attire

Though dress is becoming increasingly informal among Spaniards themselves in the workplace, even in banks and insurance offices and the like, when it comes to formal international meetings, elegance, style, and conservative quality clothing are still much appreciated. Shorts and Hawaiian shirts are not a good idea, and even in the hottest weather it's more acceptable for jackets to be kept on. Men usually wear dark colors during the winter and lighter shades during the summer.

For sightseeing, however, it's okay for visitors to dress down, especially in hot weather when even Madrileños often wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts. You'll still want something a little dressier for dining in nice restaurants and stepping out to the clubs.

In churches, the recommended attire is less prone to restrictions than in the past, though it would be a sign of respect for men not to wear shorts and women to cover bare shoulders in summer.

Avoiding Offense

In Madrid, it's tactful to avoid discussing Gibraltar, the late General Franco's regime, and politics in general until you're totally sure of your ground. Also avoid criticizing national activities that may be controversial elsewhere but not in Madrid, such as bullfights. (In more radical areas like the Basque Country and Cataluña, where Madrid tends to be regarded as the unacceptable face of authority, you may have more leeway on all these matters.) Sports, such as fútbol (soccer), and attractions of different regions of the country are good topics to discuss. Many resident Madrileños originated from another part of Spain and still retain a strong link with their home province, so if you know something about it, they will be appreciative.

Gestures

A firm handshake and eye contact are standard formal greetings for men and women alike, though on relaxed social occasions it's perfectly acceptable for two members of the opposite sex to kiss on both cheeks, even if they've never met before. When in doubt, the male can always follow the lead of the female. First names are generally okay after an introduction, unless you are addressing an older man or woman. It's acceptable to indulge in politely restrained conversational touching. With friends or close contacts, hugging and back-patting are common additional greeting gestures. Heterosexual men don't usually kiss each other on both cheeks -- as in France -- but it can be customary between close friends and members of the same family.

The "thumbs up" is not usually recognized as a sign for signaling okay; making a circle with thumb and first finger (the American symbol for "okay") is considered vulgar. To attract someone's attention, turn your palm down and wave your fingers or hand. To silently indicate a "no," shake a finger slowly to and fro.

Eating & Drinking

Lunch is the main meal of the day and usually the best time to talk business, though the serious discussion doesn't tend to start until after the coffee. Dinners are generally lighter and more formal; and when planning a rendezvous, it's essential to reserve a first-rate restaurant with a good menu and cellar. Bear in mind that dinner is usually served late -- 9 or 10pm. Spaniards often fill the gap between lunch and dinner by snacking on tapas (appetizers) at cafes and taverns.

If you're inviting Spanish friends to a meal and intending to include a spouse, it's best to extend the invitation to your visitor's spouse as well. If his spouse agrees to the invite, then it's okay to include yours too. As in most countries, it's expected for the person who makes the invitation to settle the check.

Business Etiquette

Things usually start off with casual commonplace observations and pleasantries. Once the negotiations actually get moving, it may take longer to get to the nitty-gritty than in other more northerly European countries. As companies tend to be rank-focused, concentrate on those within your rank or higher. At the same time, the opinion of everyone in the company is important. You are an outsider and must ingratiate yourself. Thus, expect many questions about your business, background, and family. Intuition as much as objective fact is important in the Spaniards' impression of you, so remain warm and friendly in your demeanor. Anticipate that many of the people important to a decision may not be present in any given meeting.

You may find it useful to have a local intermediary who can help you establish appointments. Schedule meetings well in advance. As a visitor, you should be punctual but anticipate that your hosts may be less prompt. There's still a lot of truth to the joke that in Spain, the only things that start on time are bullfights and theater performances. You can generally expect a 15- to 30-minute delay for social and certain business appointments.

Gifts

Business gifts are typically given at the conclusion of successful negotiations. Gifts should be opened and appreciated immediately. If you want to give something bearing a company name in business, then a pen or desk accessory is a good choice, as are books or CDs. Too expensive a gift might just be misinterpreted as a bribe, though.

If you're invited to dine with Spanish people, it's not customary to bring a bottle of wine as you might at home. A nicely wrapped gift, preferably showing a quality brand-name item, is more appreciated. So are chocolates, pastries, or flowers -- though dahlias (dalias) and chrysanthemums (crisantemos) usually signify bereavement and are best avoided in normal circumstances, and 13 flowers is considered unlucky. For children, university or sports team shorts are a good choice.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.