J ust like many European countries Spanish culture spans hundreds of years and has influenced the world we live in today. Spain's culture has had great influence on literature, art, religion and language the world over.
Spaniards, in general, are very patriotic about both their country and the region in which they live. Avoid arguments about whether or not people from Catalonia or the Basque Country are Spaniards. Safety is generally not a concern in case you engage in an argument, but you will be dragged in a long, pointless discussion.
Spaniards are generally very interested in maintaining their linguistic and cultural connections with Latin America. However, most Spaniards are also quick to point out they are Europeans and do not understand the common North American notion that "Hispanics," including Spaniards, are somehow all the same.
People from other Spanish-speaking countries or backgrounds may encounter a variety of receptions from being embraced as cultural kin to rejection or apathy.
Religion in Spain
Spaniards are not as religious as the media sometimes presents them, but they are and always were a mostly Catholic country (73 per cent officially, although just 10 per cent admit practising and just a 20 per cent admit being believers); respect this and avoid making any comments that could offend.
In particular, religious festivals, Holy Week (Easter), and Christmas are very important to Spaniards. Tolerance to all religions should be observed, especially in large urban areas like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville or Malaga (where people and temples of all beliefs can be found) or different regions in southern Spain, which may have a sizeable Muslim population (which accounts for almost a 4 per cent of the country's population).
Spain's colonial past
Avoid talking about the former colonial past and especially about the "Black Legend." Regardless of what you may have heard Spain had several ministers and military leaders of mixed race serving in the military during the colonial era and even a Prime Minister born in the Philippines (Marcelo Azcarraga Palmero).
Many Spaniards take pride in their history and former imperial glories. People from Spain's former colonies (Latin America, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines, Western Sahara and Northern Morocco) make up a majority of foreign immigrants in Spain (a 58 per cent) along with the Chinese, Africans and Eastern Europeans.
Equally, Spain is one of the main investors and economic and humanitarian aid donors to Latin America and Africa.
Bullfighting is seen by many Spaniards as a cultural heritage icon, but the disaffection with bullfighting is increasing in all big cities and obviously among animal activist groups within the country.
Many urban Spaniards would consider bullfighting a show aimed at foreign tourists and elder people from the countryside, and some young Spaniards will feel offended if their country is associated with it.
To illustrate how divided the country is, many Spaniards point to the royal family: King Juan Carlos and his daughter are avid fans, while his wife and the Heir Prince do not care for the sport.
Bullfights and related events, such as the annual San Fermin Pamplona bull-runs, make up a multimillion-dollar industry and draw many tourists, both foreign and Spaniard.
Also, bullfighting has been banned in the northeastern region of Catalonia and has also been outlawed in several towns and counties all over the country.
Spain's dictatorship of Francisco Franco
Avoid mentioning the past, such as the former fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975, and especially the Civil War of 1936-1939.
Many symbols, pictures, statues and monuments affiliated with the Franco regime have been outlawed and possible fines and jail time could result if you violate these laws.
This was a painful past as Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist, executing many Spaniards who violated the anti-democratic laws of the regime.
Nonetheless, one of the best periods of economic growth in Spain was the one that took place during the last years of Franco's regime, so some older Spaniards may have supportive views of Franco's ultranationalist and anticommunist ideology, so talking against Franco in front of them may be considered offensive.
Socialising in Spain
It is customary to kiss friends, family, and acquaintances on both cheeks upon seeing each other and saying goodbye. Male-to-male kisses of this sort are limited to family members or very close friends; otherwise, a firm handshake is expected instead (same as in France or Italy).
A happy medium is a traditional abrazo (hug) which is usually done to people that you haven't seen in a long time and/or are very glad to see, regardless of gender (male-to-male is somewhat more common).
When somebody expects a hug he/she usually will throw his/her arms towards you: this is more common than you may think, but don't do it with strangers as it's probably a ruse to get your wallet.
Related to this, Spaniards are keen to maintain physical contact while talking, such as putting a hand on your shoulder, patting your back, etc. These should be taken as signs of friendship done among relatives, close friends and colleagues.
While Spaniards may not always be the most punctual people in the world, you should never arrive late to appointments; this will seem very bad to most people.
In Spanish beaches, it is okay for women to sunbathe topless. This practise is particularly common in tourist areas. Full nudity is practised in "clothing-optional" or nudist beaches.
During lunch or dinner, Spaniards do not begin eating until everyone is seated and ready to eat. Likewise, they do not leave the table until everyone is finished eating.
Table manners are otherwise standard and informal, although this also depends on the place you are eating. When the bill comes, it is common to pay equally, regardless of the amount or price each has consumed.
Spaniards rarely drink or eat in the street. Bars will rarely offer the option of food to take away but "tapas" are easily available.
Especially unheard of until recently was the "doggy bag." However, in the last few years, taking leftovers home from a restaurant, although still not common, has become somewhat less of a stigma than it once was. One asks for "un taper" (derived from "Tupperware") or "una caja." Older Spaniards are still likely to frown on this.
Appearing drunk in public is generally frowned upon.
Gay and Lesbian travellers in Spain
Despite being a Catholic majority country, homosexuality widely accepted in Spain and public display of same-sex affection would not likely stir hostility.
Same-Sex marriages are legal and recognised by the government and provide legal benefits to same-sex couples. However, a gay-friendly country does not always necessarily mean that the Spaniards are friendly to gays: (people in places like Madrid or Barcelona, which are two of the largest urban areas in Europe, will have a more open view than those from rural areas).
As in any other place, elderly people do usually have far more conservative points of view. Still, violence against gays is rarely heard of and Spain should be safe for most gay and lesbian travellers.