One of the most beautiful, enchanting, culturally enriching, and exciting countries you’re ever going to see is Spain. It’s no wonder that it’s one of the top travel destinations for tourists around the world! If you’ve already checked out our infographic showcasing 50+ interesting facts about Spain, now it’s time to dive a little deeper!
So whether you’re planning a trip to visit this wondrous country, or if you’re just curious about it, here’s a little introduction to the Spanish culture and its customs. Let’s go, “Vamanos!”
Common Spanish Phrases
When traveling to countries where the native language is not English, it’s important to be able to say a few things. Here are some Spanish words and phrases you’ll hear used a lot — they might not be in every travel dictionary you pick up at the store.
- Venga! (vain gah) – Come on/let’s go/you don’t say/yeah right
This word is just a small exclamation, but the Spaniards use it all the time. It can be used in various contexts and it’s a good one to know, especially since excited people will usually be shouting it at you.
- Yo quiero, yo no quiero (yoh kee air oh, yoh no kee air oh) – I want, I don’t want
- Me gustaría (may goo stah ree ah) – I would like (more polite)
These two Spanish phrases are helpful for when you need to ask for things along your travels.
- ¿Dónde está…? (don de es tah) – Where is…
This is a good phrase to know if you’re in unfamiliar places and you need directions from a local.
- Así (ahsee) – Like this/like that/this way
This is a handy little word that you can pair with a word like como if you want to say “like this/that” (Como así).
- Por favor (por fah vohr) – Please – and Gracias (grah see ahs) – Thank you
These are VERY IMPORTANT words in Spanish, especially when speaking with people you just met in another country!
Want to learn even more Spanish greetings and phrases? Check out our live group classes through our online classroom — free for a limited time!
A Note on Spanish Greetings
It’s good to know how to greet someone in a foreign country and be polite about it. In English, even speaking with people you may not know, it’s common and acceptable to simply say “Hi” or “Hello.” However, in most romance languages it’s more common to greet people you don’t know formally with day-oriented greetings.
Buenos días (bway nos dee ahs) – Good morning
Buenas tardes (bway nahs tar days) – Good afternoon
Buenas noches (bway nahs noh chayss) – Good evening
Hola (oh lah) is “hi,” and you can say it to people you know
Spanish Food & Dining
Spain is a wonderful country for many reasons, but one of my favorite reasons is the food! In Spain there are many bars; on small streets you can find two, sometimes three bars all right next to each other. These bars offer more than just tasty drinks; they usually have delicious food as well!
The tradition in Spain when going out to eat is to go for tapas — they’re small portions of food that used to be made as small portions of bread with some meat on top, in order to enhance the taste of liquor. However, the tapas later became just as important as the liquor, and today, it’s a very highly distinguished culinary cuisine.
When you go out to eat in Spain, I definitely recommend trying a variety of tapas bars and a variety of tapas. Here are some popular Spanish tapas that you’ll undoubtedly come across:
- Albóndigas: Meatballs with sauce.
- Allioli: “Garlic and oil” — the classic ingredients are only garlic, oil, and salt, but a common form of it includes mayonnaise and garlic, served on bread or with boiled or grilled potatoes, fish, meat, or vegetables.
- Bacalao: Salted cod loin sliced very thinly, usually served with bread and tomatoes.
- Boquerones: White anchovies served in vinegar (boquerones en vinagre), or deep fried.
- Calamares or rabas: Rings of battered squid.
- Carne mechada: Slow-cooked, tender beef.
- Chorizo al vino: Chorizo sausage slowly cooked in wine.
- Chorizo a la sidra: Chorizo sausage slowly cooked in cider.
- Croquetas: A common sight in bar counters and homes across Spain, served as a tapa, a light lunch, or a dinner along with a salad.
- Empanadillas: Large or small turnovers filled with meats and vegetables.
- Ensaladilla rusa: (Olivier salad) Mixed boiled vegetables with tuna, olives, and mayonnaise.
- Gambas: Prawns sauteed in salsa negra (peppercorn sauce), al ajillo (with garlic), or pil-pil (with chopped chili peppers).
- Papas arrugadas or papas con mojo (see: Canarian wrinkly potatoes): Very small, new potatoes boiled in salt water similar to sea water, then drained, slightly roasted, and served with mojo, a garlic, Spanish paprika, red pepper, cumin seed, olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, and bread miga (fresh bread crumbs without the crust) to thicken it.
- Queso con anchoas: Castilla or Manchego cured cheese with anchovies on top.
- Solomillo al whisky: Fried pork scallops, marinated using whisky, brandy, or white wine and olive oil.
As you can see, the food in the Spanish culture usually has a LOT of garlic! They also serve, and are very proud of, their jamón serrano, or rustic ham. It’s very common for bars to compete and claim that they have the best jamón by saying they have the pata negra (black foot) ham, which is regarded as the best ham in Spain.
Religion in Spain
One thing to be aware of in Spain is the importance and prominence of Roman Catholicism. It’s by far the most prominent religion in the country; in fact, 68% of Spaniards identify themselves as Catholics! That’s a big statistic, and it explains why there are so many churches in Spain and why these churches and cathedrals are so beautifully decorated.
Religious Celebrations in Spain
If you’re planning on going to Andalucia during the week leading up to Easter, I recommend checking out one of the biggest festivals of the year, Semana Santa. The festival is particularly celebrated in Seville, Spain, and runs for one week.
This week is a big deal in Spain. Some people will spend all year planning for it! Streets are blocked off, bands will come out and play, and bars and restaurants participate by having Semana Santa specials.
Spanish Culture in Daily Life
The daily life in Spain is much different than what you find in other countries. You always feel great in Spain because here, everything seems so relaxed. The streets are relaxed and the people are relaxed.
The key difference in Spanish culture is that people don’t get stressed out over simple things. If you’re five or 10 minutes late for something, they simply say, “No pasa nada!” This Spanish phrase basically translates to, “Don’t worry about it.” (Of course, when it comes to business meetings and occasions where you have time limits, then this might be frowned upon by some.)
Siestas in Spain
Perhaps the most difficult (and at the same time easy) part of getting used to Spanish culture is the daily work schedule. All throughout Spain, they have the infamous tradition of the siesta. This is an old tradition that involves taking an afternoon nap in the middle of the day, which is usually the hottest time of the day.
The siesta is a wonderful thing if you feel like taking a nap or just relaxing after lunch. The problem is that if you have things you would like to get done, you really can’t go to any stores because everything is closed! The typical work hours in Spain are from 9am – 2pm, and then the city shuts down.
Afterward, however, things open back up again from 5 or 6pm – 10pm, or maybe even later. This can be a very hard schedule to get used to, but if you’re there (especially in the summer), you’ll see why this tradition is actually very necessary — for the heat!
Family Dynamic in Spain
This brings us to another difference about the culture in Spain: people are so friendly and nice to each other because they look at one another as family. In Spain it’s very typical to be close to your family, and I believe this helps them in treating neighbors just the same.
It’s not uncommon for family members to live just a couple houses down the street, or even in the same house together for their entire lives. People are so nice to each other that even a few times I would be buying fruit from local fruit stands, and I accidentally did not bring enough money with me. The vendor would simply say, “No pasa nada! Bring it to me tomorrow.” It’s all because I bought fruit from that vendor all the time, so she got to know me and began treating me like family.
Nightlife in Spain
The nightlife is an extremely exciting part of Spain! Remember how I said shops are open until 10pm or later? Because of this, people will go out and stay up much later. In Spain, it’s normal to stay up until midnight or later on weekdays. However, the weekends are when the fun really begins.
On days you don’t have to work, after your siesta you usually do other things until the evening (8 or 9pm), and then you start talking with friends about going out. A typical Spanish evening out on the town does not start before 11 or 12pm. People will stay out until 5am, or sometimes later when they go out for parties, clubs, or even just drinks!
Other Cultural Traditions in Spain
If you’re a true Spaniard, you might go see an evening bull fight (corrida de toros), or sometimes a night of listening to live Flamenco music. The tradition of bull fighting has actually subsided quite a lot in Spain, and now you can only see it in the south of Spain.
Flamenco music, on the other hand, is everywhere throughout Spain. It’s considered a high art form, and you can find flamenco dancers (bailes de flamenco) and shows in almost any city.
In reality, though, not all Spaniards like to go out and watch Flamenco all the time. Some do, but it’s actually a spectacle that’s mostly catered toward tourists. The real Spanish thing to do is to go out for tapas and then go see the fútbol (soccer) match.
Holidays in Spain
Possibly my favorite part about this amazing country is the parties. The people here know how to do it!
They also have a lot of holiday time off. In Spain, every Saint gets their own holiday, and depending on which city you’re in, or what churches are nearby, you might get a day off (usually three or more per year).
Besides the religious holidays like Easter, Christmas, and Semana Santa, there are many other great occasions to celebrate in Spain. One of my favorites is La Feria (the fair), or if you’re in other parts of Spain, they might have Carnaval; this is a time where every city in Spain will have their own celebration. Nobody works and it’s just fun for the whole week. People will dress up in traditional flamenco-like dresses at La Feria, and for Carnaval, everyone dresses up in a ridiculous costume (a lot like Halloween, except it’s for a whole week).
These are some of my favorite and fondest memories of spending almost three years living in Spain. They’re just glimpses of cultural experiences you’ll discover from this amazing country. There are customs and traditions unlike anything we have here in the U.S!
It’s truly a remarkable culture with some remarkable people; if you get the chance to go to Europe, I would not hesitate for a second to at least go visit this wonderful place. And who knows, you may never want to leave. Olé!