Local Customs Guide
Contemporary Barcelona is the most relaxed and liberal of all Spanish cities.
In Franco’s day, many visitors would be arrested for the skimpy, revealing clothes worn around the city streets (this was a time when kissing in public was banned), but these days no one is going to bat an eyelid if you wear a pair of shorts and sandals down Las Ramblas. Church officials will not prevent you from visiting churches and cathedrals if you’re in shorts or short sleeves, but it is disrespectful, so try to make an effort and wear appropriate clothing. The same etiquette applies if you are attending a traditional church wedding; women should bring a wrap or shawl to the church in order to cover bare shoulders or low-cut dresses and men should wear a tie and jacket.
Although Spaniards once showed up for appointments 2 or 3 hours late, most nationals now arrive on time as they do in the rest of the E.U. countries. It’s always wise for men to wear a suit for business meetings. The familiar “tú” form is now widely used in Spain, a sign of the country’s shaking off of their old-school image. But to be on the safe side, foreign Spanish speakers should address strangers, particularly older people, with the formal “usted” to start.
Kissing on both cheeks is reserved for friends, or people your friends introduce you to. Handshakes are more the norm in business transactions. On a very rare occasion, you might see two men greet each other with kisses, but more likely with a handshake or semi-hug. The two kisses (one on each cheek) tradition happens more often between a man and a woman, woman to woman and children.
Catalan nationalism is an extremely sensitive subject and often avoided even among the Catalans themselves. Unless you are an expert on the topic, stay away from it and avoid making strong statements about Catalans, in general, too.
If you are invited into a private home for dinner, you are not expected to bring a bottle of wine, although a small gift of chocolates or flowers will be appreciated. The Spanish, as are the Catalans, are openly affectionate once you have really formed a friendshp with them. There is the well-known saying here that “Catalans might not be the most open people to begin with, but once you break through and form a friendship with one, that Catalan will be your friend for life. ” Catalans are not known to be effusive, so don’t expect to walk into a social gathering for the first time and make 50 new best-friends! The friendships might take some effort, but once established, the reward of those relationships is extraordinary.
The siesta may annoy you if you are used to being able to shop between 2pm and 5pm, but try not to be too grouchy about it. The major shopping centers and businesses in Barcelona are no longer observing the siesta and in many ways, it is a dying art. The tragedy of this will become apparent to you in the height of summer, when a three hour meal, nap and conversation time with your family begins to make a lot of sense.