So I realized the other day that I have been making assumptions about what people know about Spain and Spanish culture. There is a huge difference in almost everything between America and Spain. In fact, I like to think they are at opposite ends of the spectrum, in terms of culture, politics, religion, food, motivation, time and above all, in ways of thinking. Spain is a thoroughly easygoing, friendly, relaxed Mediterranean country. The words “stress” and “worry” don’t really seem to exist in the average Spaniards vocabulary. Who cares if there is crippling unemployment and widespread economic collapse when you are alive and in a beautiful place with wonderful people? If you understand this, then you can understand why things are the way they are here. It is an attitude like this that makes me both love Spain so much and be super frustrated with it at the same time. I am planning to include more short posts on cultural differences and mishaps, something I am very good at!
So let’s start with the basics! Introductions! In the States when you meet someone for the first time, you shake hands formally with about two feet of space between you. If you try to do that here, more often than not the person you are meeting will laugh at you and stare at your hand. Spaniards (and Europens in general) are more friendly and relaxed, and touchy, so when you meet someone here, you give two kisses on the cheek, first the left then the right (trust me this could lead to some awkward mishaps, so remember-left to right), and you say your name and nice to meet you as you kiss too. Complicated, I know. Also, be aware that people here don’t understand the concept of personal space and will talk to you with their faces right in front of yours.
Just your average cheek kiss greeting in Europe (source)
You usually kiss your friends when you meet up with them or when you say goodbye. Sometimes if you are really excited to see someone you give 3 or 4 kisses. (In Switzerland its 3 kisses, left-right-left, in France its 2, right-left) Now this goes for greetings between girls, and girls and boys, but between guys its more of a handshakes unless they are really close or family. A lot of times now its more of a cheek to cheek and even less of a kiss. This also explains that when you text someone a lot of times it ends with the word “kisses” or “besos.”
Kissing has a totally different connotation here. For example when I got coffee with a university professor for the first time this week I got two kisses when I met him and two kisses when we said goodbye. Also in the school where I work my students give me cheek kisses all the time. It’s really adorable except when they have snot all over their faces. The teachers kiss the kids on the cheek too and its no big deal. I think you would be fired for that back home. I love that its so comfortable and relaxed, informal and warm here. Everyone is so friendly and outgoing, it really makes me feel quite at home and not bothered by dumb social stigmas of whether or not to show affection. But the REAL question is what do you do when you meet other Americans in Spain? Handshake, hug, slight wave, kisses? An incredibly tricky and usually very awkward moment occurs!!
Check out this classic son by about kissing (bésame) Suavamente here!