Dos and Don’ts

Dining Times: “If you want to really enjoy our culture, then you must adapt to our eating schedule.”—Raquel Saéz, assistant director, Breakfast is from 8-10 a.m. and consists of toast, coffee, and fresh-squeezed orange juice; many Spaniards have a second breakfast around 11 a.m. Lunch is from 2-4 p.m. and is the main meal of the day; most restaurants offer a set menú del día with three courses from $10-20. Dinner starts around 10 p.m. and can be a light meal in a restaurant or a night of tapas at various bars.

Drinking: Madrileños are extremely social and love to meet friends for drinks. However, the emphasis is on the social and locals follow a set of drinking norms. Daytime and early evening is reserved for cañas (small draft beers), wine, or vermut (sweet vermouth). Meals are accompanied with wine. Mixed drinks are reserved for after 10 p.m. The pour on a mixed drink is several times heavier than in the U.S. and the mixer comes on the side, so pace yourself. In big nightclubs you will have to pay an entrada (entry fee); in exchange you receive a chit for your first drink free.

Family Time: “Don’t be surprised to see children in neighborhood bars or playing in the streets at midnight in the summer. The local tavern is an extension of the home and families will spend most evenings there, especially if there is a terrace.”—Stephen Drake-Jones, Madrid-based historian.

Greetings: Spaniards will offer a kiss on each cheek upon being introduced (except between men); handshakes are reserved for business settings. It is customary to greet people you pass in close proximity to—on elevators, when entering small shops and bars, in hallways. Say muy buenas (a very generic good day, evening, night) upon first contact and hasta luego (see you later) upon departure.

Personal Space: “It has a different meaning here—meaning it is very reduced. Expect elbows in your back on the Metro and in bars.”—Kirsty Tuxford, editor, In Madrid. The last point is important. Civility reigns in daily Madrid life and no one takes offense at being bustled about in a crowded place.

Siestas: “To properly experience Madrid, it helps to take a nap.”—Stephen Drake-Jones. The 5-7 p.m. lull after lunch, when most madrileños are back at work and many bars and cafes are shuttered, is the perfect time for a siesta. Head back out by nightfall to see the streets teeming with locals taking paseos (evening strolls) and heading off to tapas bars.

Tipping: “Never tip in bars for breakfast, coffee, cañas, or cocktails. It is not expected and even considered a little strange. The rest of the time, you can round up your bill to the nearest euro.”—Stephen Drake-Jones. This also applies to taxis.

Phrase Book

Spanish is pronounced exactly as it is written. In addition to the 26 letters from the English alphabet, Spanish has: “ll” pronounced like the “y” in “you” (calle = kah-yay); “ñ” pronounced like the “ni” in “onion” (mañana = mah-nya-na); and “rr,” a strongly trilled “r” (perro = pair-rroh)

Buenas: Serves as good day, good evening, or good night; Spaniards often say only “Buenas,” omitting the rest of the phrase. Pronounced bweh-nahs

Caña: A small draft beer, favored by locals over taller pours. Pronounced kah-nya

¿Cuánto es?: How much is it? Pronounced kwahn-toe ehs

¿Dónde está…: Where is…? Pronounced dohn-day es-tah

El servicio: The restroom. Pronounced el suhr-vee-see-oh

Un cajero automático: An ATM machine, cash dispenser. Pronounced ka-hair-oh aw-toe-mah-tee-koh

Guay: Cool, great. Pronounced gwai

Gracias: Thank you. Pronounced grah-thee-ahs

¿Habla Usted inglés?: Do you speak English? Pronounced ah-blah oos-tehd een-glays

Hasta luego: See you later; said when leaving an establishment, restaurant, store, or even elevator. Pronounced ah-sta loo-way-goh

La cuenta: The bill. Pronounced la kwen-tah

Me llamo…: My name is… Pronounced may yah-moh

No entiendo: I don’t understand. Pronounced no en-tyen-doh

No hablo español: I don’t speak Spanish. Pronounced no ah-blo es-pan-yol

Perdón: Excuse me. Pronounced pehr-dohn

Por favor: Please. Pronounced pohr fah-vohr

Quisiera… I’d like… Pronounced kee-see-ree-ah

¡Salud!: Cheers! Pronounced sah-lood


About Madrid and Spain

  • <p>Photo: Madrid's Gran Via</p>


    Get travel tips, see photos, take a quiz and more with National Geographic's Ultimate Guide to Madrid.

  • <p>Photo: Spanish bullfighter</p>


    Explore Spain through facts and photos, related features, a country map, and more.

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