Nonverbal Forms of Communication in Spain
speakers meet, they almost always touch--especially if they know each other at
all. Even family members and young friends will shake hands on every meeting.
Men who know each other often hug, and if at least one of the people is female,
"besitos" (little kisses) are exchanged--touching cheeks and small
kissing sounds. If you watch an English-speaking couple have lunch in a
restaurant, they will touch one or two times. If you watch a Spanish-speaking
couple having lunch in a restaurant they usually will touch hundreds of
times--almost constantly. The lack of touching makes Spanish speakers think
that English speakers are cold and distant.
The Spanish also
frequently touch one another while speaking, and tend to stand more closely
than Americans. When meeting for the first time, people traditionally shake
hands. Stretch your arm out, with your palm downward, and make a scratching
motion toward your body with the fingers to beckon for someone. Men
sometimes shake with two hands, placing their left hand on the other person's
a circle with the index finger and thumb means "OK" for English
speakers but "money" (looks like a coin) for Spanish speakers.
English "thumbs up" signal is seen by Spanish speakers of different
countries to mean many things--none of them "Good" or "OK"
and some of them insulting.
English way of gesturing "come here" (palm up and moving the index
finger several times) signals romantic or sexual interest to Spanish
speakers--they turn the palm down and move all the fingers together to signal
an English speaker wags his index finger while pointing up, it means
"Don't" and is used by parents to scold children. When a Spanish
speaker makes that gesture is simply means "no"--an emotionally
neutral answer to a question.
and women always shake hands.
smile a lot more and make a lot less eye contact when speaking to another
person. This makes English speakers think that Spanish speakers are not serious
and not to be trusted. It makes Spanish speakers think that English speakers
are cold and threatening. In Spanish culture, a comfortable speaking distance
is from 15 to 45 centimeters face to face. In English-speaking culture, it is 45
to 80 centimeters. You can watch English and Spanish speakers maneuver around
the 45 cm distance, which is just on the edge of each person's comfort zone.
Also, in Spanish-speaking cultures, it is considered rude to throw anything at
another person. In English-speaking cultures, it is common--especially for
young men--to toss small objects like keys or cigarette lighters.
The Spanish prize
eye contact. This culture also relies heavily on body language. People often
talk over one another, using their hands wildly to make a point or contorting
their facial expressions to reflect their thoughts. Interrupting someone shows
interest in what they say. When talking in Spain, your stance and facial
expressions will convey your message as much---and possibly more than---the
words you say. The Spanish also place a lot of emphasis on how people present
themselves. Sometimes, especially in business meetings, a Spanish person will
not express his opinion with words. He will, however, reveal his message
through nonverbal cues.