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Spanish traditions and customs

The influence of Spain's traditions and culture can be found around the world, but you get to see it in its purest form on your Spanish holiday this year.

With such a complex history, you might want to brush up on some basics below for an inside view of the customs and traditions that'll surround you during your visit.

Getting personal

Spain, like its Mediterranean cousins Italy and Portugal, has a warmer approach to personal space than the UK.

Physical contact is seen as a sign of respect, so if your Spanish conversation partner touches your elbow to emphasise a point, it's nothing to feel uneasy about. If anything, it just shows you're making a good impression.

Similarly, when meeting someone of the opposite gender, an air kiss is the expected gesture, while a handshake also works well – it's a little more formal. Even when meeting for the first time, Spanish people may give you an air kiss.

This smooch beside each cheek eliminates the personal space many travellers are accustomed to, but take it as a good sign – it simply means your Spanish friend is happy to meet you.

Love that late lunch

A tradition that is also observed in countries descended from Spanish origin, such as Mexico, is the love of lunch. The afternoon meal, regarded as the biggest and most important of the day, tends to be different than what you're used to at home.

Eaten late, generally anywhere between 1pm and 4pm, you'll consume huge portions and rich flavours.

This late lunch coincides with another Spanish tradition – the siesta. This midday to mid-afternoon break means you have plenty of time for a large meal, as shops close and office workers leave buildings until late afternoon to enjoy a few hours of rest in the heat of the day.

While other cultures consider dinner the largest meal of the day, the Spanish treat it as a way to round off an evening. In fact, you're most likely to see Spanish families at restaurant tables for dinner around 9 or 10pm.

Bars and nightlife

In Spain, people wake up – and stay up – later than the norm. Remember, the Spanish eat their final meal just when most of us begin winding down and putting the kids to bed. This late-night lifestyle means the social schedules of Spanish people end later than in other places.

As such, you'll find that people planning a night out won't even leave the house until midnight and may well stay up until sunrise, making nightlife a fantastic proposition anywhere in Spain. And just like the country's alternative timeline, there are several different nightlife customs to bear in mind.

Standards like waiting in line or ordering at the bar in a first come, first served basis are more relaxed in Spain. In fact, the whole idea of going out is more relaxed.

Although you'll still find plenty of dancing and life after dark, lounging around the table on a balmy evening with a sangria in hand is how they like to do things here. Allow that laid-back lifestyle to be the theme of your evening.

When it's time to order your drinks, you'll appreciate Spain's relaxed approach. While UK bartenders must adhere to regulations on exact measures of alcohol, in Spain they pour generously.

Don't be surprised if your gin and tonic comes with a portion of gin that would count as a hefty double shot back home – just remember to enjoy Spain responsibly, of course.

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