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Nonverbal Forms of Communication in Spain

Greeting and Touching

When Spanish 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 forearm.


Hand Gestures

·        Making a circle with the index finger and thumb means "OK" for English speakers but "money" (looks like a coin) for Spanish speakers.

·        The 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.

·        The 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 "come here."

·        When 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.

·        Men and women always shake hands. 

Other Nonverbal Signals

Spanish speakers 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.

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