For international business travellers, adapting to different cultures is part of the job description. Oftentimes, knowledge of local customs and etiquette can mean the difference between a successful business meeting and a failed one.
Business culture varies from nation to nation, and even city to city. Increasingly prominent as a centre of industry, banking, and logistics, the Spanish city of Barcelona is becoming a common destination for UK business travellers. If you have a business trip to Barcelona coming up, it may help to brush up on your Spanish culture to ensure the trip goes smoothly for everyone involved.
Barcelona: The Capital of Catalonia
As visitor to Barcelona, it’s important to understand that while most of the world sees this city as part of Spain, natives consider Barcelona to be part of the autonomous region of Catalonia. Catalan, not Spanish, is the official language of the city and region, so don’t be surprised to see road signs and public notices in Catalan. However, the high numbers of non-Catalans in Barcelona mean that Spanish remains the lingua franca of Barcelona. If you have basic Spanish skills, you’ll likely get on just fine in Barcelona, as most Catalan speakers will be fully bilingual in Spanish. It never hurts to learn a few words of Catalan, however.
Making a Good First Impression
In a business environment, first impressions are crucial. Meeting your Spanish counterparts is likely to be the most important moment of the entire business trip. As in most of Europe, a handshake is the standard professional greeting.
The meet-and-greet is a good time to demonstrate some knowledge of the local language. For a morning meeting, try buenos días (Spanish) or bon dia (Catalan). In the afternoon, the proper greeting is buenas tardes or bona tarda. If you have a business dinner lined up in Barcelona, greet your hosts with buenas noches or bona nit.
Communicating and Interacting
In Spanish (and Catalan) culture, the face-to-face relationship is of paramount importance – so take the time to form a comfortable and trusting rapport with your international counterparts. The Spanish are known for being warm, cheerful, and outgoing, and appreciate a good sense of humour. Be careful not to stray into sarcasm, however – language barriers may cause you to be misunderstood, with awkward results for all.
In business discussions and negotiations, it is the Spanish custom to make agreements first orally and later in writing, which may seem somewhat informal to some visitors. Most decisions are made at the top of the firm, in accordance with Spanish business culture’s deferral to authority and hierarchy.
When in Rome…
When in doubt about how to behave in the Barcelona business environment, follow your host’s lead. Not only is it polite, but it gives you the opportunity to observe the appropriate customs and practices before you put them to use.
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