- the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life
- the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave
The concept of practicing ” proper etiquette” is something that has always been fascinating to me – and now even more so that I’m living abroad. I mean, think about it – it’s these set of “unwritten” rules that the people of your culture expect you to follow.
How did these social norms come to be? -and- Why do they vary from culture to culture?
Since I’m no sociologist – I guess I’ll leave those questions to be analyzed by the experts. 🙂
What I can analyze though are some of the differences I have witnessed regarding what it means to use “polite” etiquette in the US compared to Spain.
Ready to begin your Spanish “manners” lesson? 😉
Great! Let’s start!
Te invito a…. (I invite you to…..)
Over time, what has become clear to me is that Spaniards and Americans have a different idea of what it means to “invite” someone to do/eat something. (Sadly I learned this social lesson the hard way.) I think the best way to illustrate what I mean is with an example of what happened to me during my temporary teaching stint in Salamanca, Spain last year.
During the 2009-2010 school year I worked part time as a teacher’s assistant at a Spanish high school. Every Monday-Thursday I would meet with my teacher co-workers for a coffee in the cafeteria before classes started.
The first time I had my coffee – I tried to pay for it myself – but I was told by one of the teachers that I had been “invited” (or I think in the US we would say “treated”) to the coffee by a different teacher. I told that teacher thank you and I didn’t think much of it (I assumed that I had been treated to my coffee because it was my first day at the school or something).
As the weeks went by, however, I kept getting treated to coffee after coffee. (I know this is incredibly naive but…) After a while I even stopped bringing my wallet to school because I just assumed that I would get a “free” coffee every morning.
Then after a few months it “dawned on” me that I was starting to take advantage of the other teachers’ generosity and I should probably start treating them to the morning coffee.
So that same morning I went to school armed with my wallet and about 10-15 euros and when it came time to put down money for the coffees of all the teachers I insisted on paying.
And the worst part? No one objected with me! (I figured someone would try to prevent me from paying or something….) I felt terrible – it was as if they were secretly waiting for me to pay for the group this whole time! I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t realized that this is how the “inviting” process works in Spain – the group of people meeting up takes turns paying for all the coffees of the entire bunch.
Basic “etiquette rules” of offering and accepting an invitation
In general I have learned that the “each person pays for his own” system like we almost always use in the US is not as commonly practiced in Spain. Instead, they seem to use a system of treating the other person or the whole group to the meal/coffee/activity.
Here’s what I’ve observed:
Large groups that meet regularly (like the teachers in Salamanca)
- People of the group take turns (at random) paying for the whole group
Meeting an acquaintance for lunch/coffee ect. (especially if you want to make a good impression on them)
- If you extend the invitation and destination (for example: Want to go to Panera for lunch?) – it’s implied that you pay for the other person.
On a “romantic” date
- The guys usually always pays. (like in the US)
Meeting up with a close friend/family member
- Each person pays for their own
Going out for dinner/drinks with a large group of close friends
- The group decides on an amount to put in the “bote” (a pool of money collectively used by the group)
- One person in the group is in charge of this money and uses it to pay for dinner and drinks ect. while out on the town.
- If money is leftover from the bote (assuming your friend is honest and not a sin vergüenza (used to describe someone who is ‘shameless’) 😉 ) The extra money is divided up and returned at the end of the night.
The Spanish Invitation Implications
The idea of having someone treat you to a lunch or an outing sounds great right? All you have to do is sit back and wait for a someone to call you and “invite” you to do something and you’ll get away with never spending a dime, right??
Sorry, it’s not that easy….
It seems like there’s a fine line here between accepting others’ invitations and being thought of as a gorrón* (a “mooch” or someone that takes advantage of other’s generosity)
With the “invitation” system, it’s implied that if someone treats you to a lunch – on the next occasions you’re expected to pay for that acquaintance/friend – lest you earn the dreaded gorrón status!!
For me and my American brain this system just seems overly complicated – it’s like you have to keep track of who paid how much every time…. much better just to always split the bill in half!
*The word gorrón has the root word gorra meaning ‘cap’ or ‘hat’ – referencing someone walking around with an upturned hat accepted free hand outs – pretty interesting right??
What do you think? In the US do you always pay “your own way”?
In what instances do you let others treat you? Do you feel obligated to “owe” them an invitation in return?
Finally, remember: Try to empathize with the “bad manners” of foreign people (I hoped the Salamanca teachers thought of this when I neglected to treat them to coffee for over 2 months… whooops) – because you never know if what is considered “normal” or “proper” etiquette in their own country is the same as what we practice in the US. When in doubt -ask them about it – you’ll be surprised by the different social practices of other cultures!
(Like my old Turkish roommate who loudly “slurped” his morning tea – apparently for him that was the “correct” way to enjoy a cup of tea – who knew!)