By: Robert Greene, Saturday June 10th,2006 03:42
1. Be on time. Despite what you may have heard about Southern European customs, Spaniards are punctual (at least as punctual as traffic snarls permit). If you arrive first, either wait in the bar or ask for the table that has been reserved.
2. Lunch rarely starts before 2:30 p.m. Spain runs on a different schedule than the rest of Europe. Most Spaniards begin the day with a light continental breakfast on the way to work, take a break at 11 a.m. for coffee, have lunch at 2:30 p.m. and then dine at 9:30 p.m. or later. A business lunch will take at least an hour and a half, and two and a half hours is not unusual.
3. A luncheon is a social occasion first, a business event second. Personal relationships are important. The Spanish executive will want to get to know and trust the person with whom he may do business. Lunch is his opportunity for getting better acquainted with you. Appropriate conversations include sports, travel, family, vacations, politics and old friends.
4. Your guests will be impressed if you pick an appropriate restaurant. Spaniards like to be seen by and see people they know.
5. Most meals are accompanied by wine. Spaniards like their excellent domestic reds (vino tinto) so much that they will drink them with not only meat, but also the traditional white wine dishes of fish and fowl. In a fine restaurant, you can rarely go wrong by asking for the vino de la casa or the headwaiter's suggestion.
6. Hands should be kept above the table at all times, if necessary resting the forearms on the table edge. Spanish mothers reprimand their children if both hands are not in view: "What are you hiding in that other hand?" This suspicion dates back to the days of swords, daggers and courtly plots.
7. When business does come up (and it is best to wait for the Spaniard to raise it), talk principles. Do not pull spreadsheets or reports from your briefcase, start drawing calculations on the napkin, or press on money-related subjects.
8. If you are the host, signal discretely for the bill (la cuenta) after the coffee has been served and liquors offered. The waiter will never bring the bill to you unasked, but he will be prompt once you have done so.
9. Your business lunch may appear to end with nothing more than warm thanks and a promise to follow up, but expect results. Most Spaniards will be in touch the following day with a confirming letter, a request for those spreadsheets or documents you didn't pull out at the table, or they will have a member of their staff contact you or your staff. Be conscientious about anything you have promised.