Welcome topics of conversation
The Spanish are a vivacious and gregarious people who can also be proud and individualistic. Their immediate friendliness may strike a more reserved foreigner as perfunctory or superficial rather than genuinely spontaneous. This amiable façade does not mask indifference, however, but allows a Spaniard to observe social niceties whilst at the same time affording the time and a proper opportunity to get to know [and like] you.
The quality of your character is the measure of the respect that you deserve in this rather old-fashioned culture so you should try not to place too much emphasis on your professional experience and business success during conversation or to judge everything Spanish by North American [or even North European] standards. Modesty is valued above assertiveness but there is no place for self-deprecation in a culture that emphasises personal pride and honour [orgullo].
Spaniards maintain a serious, dignified image in a public or formal setting but are quick to relax in private. The ability to be amusing and entertaining is much prized and humour plays an important part even in business discussions. Personal banter is acceptable but not any kind of sarcasm that might offend the Spanish sense of honour and so undermine the respect and trust that you must strive to establish.
It is difficult to cause real offence without being directly insulting - and you should not confuse a Spaniard's innate animation with anger or any other deep-seated emotion - but you must avoid making disrespectful remarks about Spanish traditions or practices that you may find alien [if not downright infuriating].You must certainly not allude to national or regional stereotypes.
Welcome topics of conversation:
Your home country;
Your travels, especially in Spain;
[Spanish] art, architecture and pre-20th century history;
Spanish traditions [e.g. flamenco];
Spanish wines and sherry;
Sport, especially football [soccer];
Bullfighting [if you and your counterpart share the same enthusiasm or hostility];
Politics [with care and only if you really do know what you are talking about];
Family, especially [your host's] children.
Topics to avoid:
Bullfighting [if you and your counterpart are likely to disagree];
Religion [i.e. any aspect of Roman Catholicism];
The Civil War and WWII;
Basque separatism and Catalan regionalism;
Enquiries of a personal nature, especially during first introductions;
Machismo and feminism.
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