Saludos: etiquette I like about the Spanish culture


One of the etiquettes that I like most about the Spanish culture is the greeting. In the Spanish culture, people greet even when they arrive at the most random places, such as a hospital waiting room.

There are different ways to say hello. Hola is the most common and general way. But you can also say buenos días / buenas noches (depending on the time of day) or simply ¡Buenas! Similarly, it is important to say hasta luego or adiós when leaving.

The Spanish are famously known for their two kisses, one on each cheek. Even in formal situations Spanish people greet with kisses.

I have to admit, the two-kissing greeting is not one of my favorites. I think one is enough. But hey, it’s just my opinion. In my Dominican culture we also have the same tradition—with the exception that it’s not two kisses but one, as I prefer. I guess it doesn’t matter when you have to greet just two or three people. But when greeting a big group (which happens often in my large family), that is when it’s a bit too much.

Hispanics living in the United States are more lenient with these traditions, as we have also adopted the American culture. In the Dominican Republic, for example, if there are ten people in a room and you greet one of them with a kiss, the right (and expected) thing to do is greet the rest the same way. People within the same culture in the US, however, do not necessarily expect you to greet each person with a kiss. If instead I decided to just wave Hello, no pasa nada. They’re accustomed to the American way, so they understand.

In Spain, they take it more seriously, especially in small towns where the tradition is carried at face value. I was sort of surprised when, meeting the teachers for the first time at the bilingual school I worked, they greeted me with the typical two kisses on the cheek. I was so used to handshakes in formal situations, I thought it was a very interesting experience.

But what’s more special is, in Spain, even the little ones greet everyone when they enter a room — something not too common in the United States. At least in my experience. In my building in Ciudad Real, children and teenagers I met on the elevator or in the hallways were always very polite. Meanwhile, my grown “professional and educated” neighbors in Philadelphia get on the elevator and hardly look at me. It is because of them actually that I thought about writing this piece!

It is nice to be reminded of manners and be reminded of what works in other cultures, because ours is not universal. We don’t want to be that tourist who, by his bad manners, always stands out abroad. 🙂


Top Five Favorite Spanish Expressions

To be perfectly honest, my very favorite Spanish expressions are kinda “offensive” to society; therefore, I will refrain from posting them on here. I should have named this post my top five favorite PG-rated Spanish expressions. Either way, here they are.

“Que tonto eres”

It literally translates to “What a fool you are” or “Fool, you” or “Silly.” But in Spain, they normally use it to mean fool. It’s just a universal Spanish language expression, but certain things kind of sound better or/and funnier to me when pronounced by a different group of people. Those two different groups for me are Spaniards and Argentinians. I love their accents! One, Argentinian, sounds sweeter; the other, Spanish, sounds more aggressive, more straightforward.

One of the teachers with whom I worked in Spain totally over-used this expression—she called the boys tontos about a dozen times each week. I know what you’re thinking; rude, wrong. But that’s who they are. I thought it was so funny that I made the expression a running joke with my brother and his Spanish girlfriend. Nobody was insulted.

“Tío macho”

This particular colloquial expression is interesting because the masculine form of the Spanish word for uncle is tío. However, in Spain only, the slang “tío” is the equivalent of the American slang dude. The female variant is tía (aunt). Now, the word macho means nothing but male (though it could also mean tough guy, depending on the context). Tío is already masculine, so there wouldn’t be a need for the word macho to accompany it. I don’t know the exact reason, but I’m guessing that the two combined words, “tío macho,” are meant to show emphasis on anger or excitement.

Some Spaniards also use Tío and macho alone interchangeably. These slangs can typically be heard in conversations between two dudes—I guess because “tía macha” wouldn’t work as well. :-D. I heard this expression mostly from upset guys. For example, if their soccer team was losing, they’d scream “¡Jo…tío macho!” It’s a funny thing how slangs make their way in our everyday language.

“Me da igual”

Literally, igual means the same or similar. But a person may say “Me da igual” to mean that they don’t care, they can care less.  Spanish people use this expression in their everyday conversations.

It’s interesting because growing up I remember this expression having some sort of negative connotation. It’s silly that I thought of it that way. Maybe it resulted from the fact that I couldn’t say it to my elders, like my mom, because they’d think I was defying them. Or it just suggests different things in different cultures. So I didn’t use it as much when I was young. In Spain, however, I was reminded of its actual meaning—it’s no big deal—so I brought it back. Sometimes I combine it with the next expression.

Maja (majo)!

“Me da igual, maja.” It works! 🙂

The word maja apparently has its history and origins in Madrid and it has to do with the way people dressed and acted in early XIX century (which also helped me figure out why the printing on my mom’s face-powder, called Maja, from back in the days had a woman dressed in a Spanish dress holding a Spanish fan). But the maja definition to which I refer now is the one that in English translates to nice, pleasant, and kind.

When I lived in Northern Spain, in Valladolid, its usage was very common. When thanking someone, they’d respond with a “¡Nada, maja!” When greeting someone, “¡Hola, maja!” Or “¡Hasta luego, maja!” They also used it in sentences like, “Que chica tan maja” (what a nice girl). But, in southern Spain, it seems that it’s not as common.  I also like any word with the letter J because Spaniards pronounce their J’s very interestingly. They put a lot of emphasis on it, almost sounding as if they were about to cough, and I just find the sound of it so curious.

“Vas a flipar”

This expression is very new in Spain. My six grade students used it way too much. In fact, it’s more of a youngsters’ vocabulary. If someone says to you “vas a flipar,” it means that you’re going to be very shocked, amused, disgusted, or whatever adjective of emotion you can think of with a touch of exaggeration. It’s the same as “you’re going to flip out” in English. It might actually be a form of Spanglish that has crossed over to Spain as more and more American television series are being aired there.

I think idioms make the boring language rules more bearable.

Do you have any favorite Spanish expression you’d like to share?

Day 3 in Madrid

This is from the 23rd, but this is when I can finally post it.


September 23, 2011

Well, some sort of frustration was to be expected.

For the past three days, I have been trying to get everything ready and settled. I’ve been looking for apartments, trying to open a bank account, getting a cell phone… pretty basic stuff—one would think.

Apartments: searched, visited, but still no luck. Sometimes when I call for info on advertisements I’ve seen online, they tell me that the conditions are different from those previously listed. For instance, today, when I responded to an ad the lady said that the place was available in November, not October as posted on the page. This slows down the process. (Plus I really liked that place!) Ugh.

When trying to open a bank account, I have encountered more problems than I ever have trying to open, well, a bank account back in the States. When I applied for this program, it said on the assistant manual that we should come with “an open mind”—and that’s what I’m reminded off every time things get hectic. “Open mind” has been my mantra.

My brother’s friend said she thinks I am stressing out. Maybe, a little. I used to do one thing after another back home, nonstop, and the sudden patient, easygoing way of living of Spaniards is driving me crazy. (I already knew this was going to happen—I’ve been here before. But since, I had become very independent, so this is different. Nevertheless, I’m handling it well.

So far I haven’t met people, so I miss my friends and family! And my boyfriend! A lot! I’m sure though that once I get a place that I can call home everything will feel so much better. I am looking forward to meeting my boyfriend here and traveling all over Europe and getting to know the culture some more. I can’t wait!

Thankfully, there’s always Spanish wine.