Greetings. They should be simple. And if you know what is socially expected in a culture, they are. But when you come from somewhere else, meeting people for the first time can become awkward and uncomfortable.
If you aren’t used to it, being introduced to a bunch of Spaniards can be a bit overwhelming. For starters, everyone has to greet everyone, which can make the process quite lengthy. Nevertheless, it’s always a joyful process, often quite loud and full of happy chatter. If you haven’t already, you will soon notice the characteristic two kisses, but more on that in a bit.
Meeting non-Spaniards in Spain
I can usually cope with meeting Spaniards in Spain. I know exactly what to do. But things get slightly more tricky when you meet people from other countries. Suddenly greetings can have a way of getting uncomfortable quite quickly, the multicultural factor getting in the way of the norm.
If I am greeting another native English speaker, (i.e. usually British or American), I never quite know if we should shake hands, hug, give two kisses or avoid contact completely with a simple ‘hello’. So it usually ends up in an awkward fumble.
I try to take into account where we are at the time. Are there any Spaniards about? Then do it the Spanish way, we are in Spain after all. Are we in an English-speaking context, only foreigners about? Then go ahead and mix it up. Either way, the other person doesn’t always come to the same conclusion and it’s still awkward. Maybe we should just stick to two kisses…
So, what is the usual way to greet someone in Spain?
In informal situations, whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or just meeting up with friends, it’s pretty much the same:
Girl greets girl: two kisses on the cheek. Note, that these ‘kisses’ aren’t really kisses at all. They usually consist of cheek touching cheek and ‘kissing’ the air. First lean towards your left and kiss the other person’s right cheek, then towards your right and kiss their left cheek.*
Guy greets girl: two kisses as above. Remember, always head left first.*
Girl greets guy: ditto.
Guy greets guy: when meeting for the first time you’ll probably shake hands. As a friendship progresses, the hand shake morphs into a sort of arm shake/elbow grab, sometimes accompanied or substituted by a friendly slap on the back, as you pull the other person towards you.
So there you have it. Not really all that hard, is it?
Just go with the flow, copy what everyone else is doing and you’ll probably be fine.
Out of all the people who have visited us in Spain, some have embraced the two kisses and others have felt quite taken aback by the seeming assault on their personal space. However, if you’re planning on staying for more than a holiday, you’d better get used to it. Otherwise, you’ll seem unfriendly and unsociable.
The only way to get out of it is to allege a terrible cold. Spaniards appear to have an irrational fear to this common ailment. So you’ll sometimes hear something like “te daría dos besos, pero estoy bastante resfriado y no te lo quiero pegar” i. e. “I would give you two kisses but I wouldn’t want you to catch my cold”.
On the other hand, I’ve also known people who have been dying to be introduced to someone, just because they get to give them two kisses. Especially when teenage hormones are at play, the prospect of an introduction offers the hope of a couple of seconds of being close to that particularly cute guy or girl.
I remember one particular time, when my school friends were sat around surveying the basket ball cout during break. They spent the whole time scheming as to who they could persuade to get them an introduction with one of the guys in the year above.
Or another time when a girl in my class spent the best part of a week begging me to introduce her to my cousin, who was visiting from the UK. She had seen him around town and thought he was ever so cute. Even after he’d left she kept bringing him up in the conversation.
There are a few more greetings to look out for. Such as the Grandma greeting. I don’t know if you have these elsewhere, but Spanish grandma’s have this ‘hug your head and kiss it numerous times’ kind of greeting.
There is also the ‘grab your cheek and pull it’ kind of greeting, mostly practiced on little kids, accompanied by a ‘you’re a cutie, aren’t you?’ kind of comment. It doesn’t help if you are a fair-haired kid in a country where most are dark-haired. But the locals also get it quite a bit.
And that’s it. All you need to know on basic greetings in Spain.
Some of the funniest moments and also the most awkward ones seem to happen when greeting someone. Have a greeting related story to tell? Share it in the comments!
*it can get really awkward if each person goes one way and you meet in the middle, right on the lips!