One of the most exciting things about living in a foreign country is discovering more about the customs, traditions, and way of life of the people who live there. Spain is notorious for its rich cuisine, its fabulous beaches and its fiestas, but one thing that might take a little more getting used to is the Spanish attitude towards punctuality. “Mañana, mañana” they say, but what does this mean? Well, I have been living in Barcelona for almost 15 years now and I still find it hard to interpret that the right way.
Whilst Germans are notorious for their punctuality and always being on time, Spaniards in general take a very different approach to timings. Despite not sticking to the same time management habits as the rest of Europe, Spaniards generally make up for lack of time management by being more flexible, particularly when it comes to timing in the work place. Perhaps this is why Spanish people generally leave the office later than most other cultures.
For many of you, it may take a time to adapt to Spanish timings, particularly if you are the type of person who doesn’t like to be late for anything (if this is the case you may find yourself hanging around a lot when waiting for friends or work colleagues). But it’s possible to understand Spanish timings—the first thing you have to do is make a distinction between a social meeting and a business meeting in Spain.
Social Meeting in Spain
Let’s say you have agreed to meet up with a big group of Spanish friends to go to the mountains on a Saturday morning. The message on the group chat says that you will all meet at 9am in the local bar and leave together from there. So you wake up early, maybe even fight your way through waking up your family. You prepare the cooler and anything else you’ll need, make your breakfast, and drink a quick cup of coffee in order to be there on time. It’s 5 minutes to 9am, you arrive at the bar in your car and are lucky enough to find a parking spot right outside. You quickly get out of the car, because it’s almost 9am and you don’t want to keep your friends waiting. As you enter the bar, you notice that only one family has arrived before you and they just ordered a complete Spanish breakfast. They wave at you and laugh lightly at your punctuality. Didn’t you see the Whatsapp about Maria who overslept, Juan who couldn’t get his car started, Angeles struggled with her kids, and all the other messages?
You patiently wait as the other families slowly arrive one by one, at around 10am the last family arrives, and all of a sudden, the whole group starts jumping into their cars because they don’t want to leave too late. Surprised and completely wired by your third coffee that morning, you excitedly follow the group and realize you have just learnt your first lesson: next time you can have an extra hour in bed!
Business Meeting in Spain
“Shall I go to your office or would you prefer to come to my office?” you ask your client politely.
“What about meeting for lunch and talking business at the same time?” your client proposes. So there you go, your first Spanish business lunch is scheduled for 3pm.
The day of your business meeting in Spain arrives, and you’re waiting outside for your client, hungry and eager to do some interesting business. At 3.15pm he finally arrives without giving any excuse for being late, because from his point of view this is perfectly acceptable. You go to shake his hand (as a formal greeting) but before you know it, you have received two kisses on the cheek (a typical Spanish welcome). He shows you into the restaurant, asks for the best table and attempts to impress you by ordering the waiter around. Without consulting you, he asks for a bottle of (cold) red wine and shows you the menu. Just as you are about to start talking about business, he takes out his phone and shows you pictures of his whole family, tells you all about last weekend’s activities, and asks you about your personal life. You’d better sit back baby, because this is going to be a long lunch with lots of alcohol and way too much food. “Mañana” you can email him your proposal, because now is not the time to do business but the time to build a relationship of trust.
If you're thinking of starting your own business in Spain, check out our handy list of resources to help you get started: