There is so much more to Spain than flamenco, siestas, sangria, tapas and paella, but learning the art of Spanish culture when attempting to broaden your business horizons to Spain will still go a long way to forging a long-lasting business deal. You will find that Spain is recognised as having the most idiosyncratic culture in all of Europe. They certainly top the world scale in the most unique and quirky festivals e.g. the well-known ‘La Tomatina’, the world’s largest tomato fight held in Valencia, and the lesser known ‘Batalla del Vino’ in Haro, Rioja, where there is a big old-fashioned wine fight! Even more bizarre are such festivals as ‘El Colacho’ in Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos, a baby jumping festival, where men dress up as devils and leap over new-borns, thought to cleanse them from original sin! These are just a few of the many weird and wonderful ways that the Spanish express their passion for festivities (many festivals are centuries old relating to anything from historical disputes, religion and superstition).
They may be a people that know how to ‘fiesta’, but likewise they are a nation astute in business. It is a country certainly worth an international venture, especially any such business relating to tourism and the hospitality industry given its reputation as the world’s most popular tourist destination of global renown. Likewise, it offers a competitive business environment, highly qualified work force, international business hub, attractive economy and an excellent lifestyle. So if you want to get into the Spanish game, then sit back, relax and see how business is done in Spain.
‘Siesta’ time is an important factor in many Spanish peoples’ lives (traditionally a way of avoiding working in the midday heat, so as to be more productive), so be sure to take note of their working hours when organising meetings. These can be a little confusing as some office hours tend towards Monday to Friday from 9am – 1:30/2pm (la mañana), with a long break for lunch (siesta) and from 4:30/5pm until about 8pm (la tarde), whilst others stay open continuously from 9am -3pm, with a very short lunch break. Although the country no longer shuts down completely during ‘siesta’ hours and such prominent cities as Madrid and Barcelona have opted for the full working day, it is still advisable to respect this part of their culture.
Patience is a necessity when carrying out business with Spaniards, as they like to take their time getting to know their potential partners before they get down to the nitty gritty. Take a leaf out of their book and embrace their laidback motto; you will find it helps you get on better in business with your counterparts as opposed to frustration and impatience, which will more than likely sour the relationship before it has had time to flourish. By working within their easygoing time schedule, it will certainly make your life easier with regard to organising any deadlines, so that you feel like business is getting somewhere. If you avoid being quixotic in your dealings with the Spanish, you will soon be on your way to skilfully dancing the flamenco through negotiations before you know it! Punctuality is however important, so forget the well-known joke about Spanish time always being ‘mañana, mañana’, you will impress them more by arriving to business meetings on time.
Art of conversation and personal rapport are two vital components in Spanish business. Spaniards like to get to know who they’re dealing with on a face-to-face basis, so learning some of the lingo will take you one flamenco step closer to sealing the deal (ensure you learn the right Spanish as for instance you’d be better to learn Catalan if visiting Barcelona), as will broaching the right topics; family, football, wine and food would be good openers, but steer away from such taboo subjects as bullfighting and Franco. It would also be advisable to get into the late night dining groove, as Spaniards tend to dine around 9-10pm, but possibly avoid business talk during this time as they are a social lot and eating out is more than just a meal.
Impress them with your dress; the right business attire is considered crucial to successful negotiations. Even better would be donning such classic brand names as Dior, Louis Vuitton, Armani and Hugo Boss. However, designer apparel is not a necessity, but elegant suits made from high-quality material in subdued colours are highly recommended, as this reflects style, professionalism and that you are serious about business.
Negotiations progress once a personal relationship is developed and trust is established. This is an important part of the process as feelings and relationships outweigh facts. Given that Spain is a hierarchical country, it’s no wonder this is played out in business. Although final decisions are only made by the company’s senior managers, you generally do business with those lower down the company hierarchy and you may never actually meet the decision makers. This is the Spanish way of doing business so don’t be put off or feel disadvantaged. Once business meetings have been established, ensure that you address your counterparts correctly with Señor (Mr), Señora (Mrs) and Señorita (Miss) followed by the surname. Don’t worry if you get the ‘you’ forms mixed up, as the less formal ‘tú’ is generally more prevalent in Spain than ‘usted’, which is more ubiquitous in Latin America. They will forgive you your informality for at least attempting to speak Spanish in the first place.
So don’t leave your business preparations for ‘mañana’. Immerse yourself in ‘La vida España’, its fascinating culture and etiquettes and you will be well on your way to mastering the art of the flamenco!
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, March 2017
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