Social mores are pretty set in stone here in Spain, and among them is a complex and intimidating web of expectations related to sidewalk behavior. It is clear to every Spaniard who gets to cut people off, at what speed one should walk arm in arm with one’s mother and when it is acceptable to completely block the sidewalk in order have a conversation. Some of the expectations are related to the way you greet someone as you encounter them. It can get pretty confusing, so I have created this little guide. Below, you will find the meaning of a few common street greetings and explanations of how to act when you hear them. Enjoy.
This is kind of like Aloha in Hawaii, in that it is both hello and goodbye. It means that the person sees you, but has no intention of talking to you. Action required: Keep walking
This is similar to adiós. Essentially the person is saying “hey there. I see you, and we are friends and everything, but there is no way I am stopping to talk to you right now.” This person is probably in a hurry because they are running late for meeting in which they will sit in a café, nurse a coffee, and chat for an hour. Action required: Repeat the phrase and keep walking. Maybe throw in a wave for good measure.
Buen Día/Buenos Días
This greeting depends on how well you know the person. If it is someone you know well, it means “hey there, I might be interested in stopping to chat, but there is no way that I am talking about anything more complicated then the weather.” Action required: Tell the person how hot/cold you think it is today. If you don’t know the person, this greeting is more of a “listen asshole, I don’t know you, but I said hello anyway, and if I could take it back I would, but I can’t, so just take your fat foreign face and keep walking.” Action required: Keep walking.
The person who says this is probably someone you consider a friend. They probably consider you an acquaintance. Perhaps they talk to you because they are so sick of talking to the same goddamn people every day of their life. He or she most likely still lives with his or her parents, you know, because of la crisis. Qué Tal, means, “I didn’t have anywhere to go, but I had to leave the house, because if my mom doesn’t get off my case about getting a job I am going to flip out on her and now you are here, so I guess I’ll talk to you. Better than going back home.” Action required: Stop and chat. Make sure you don’t mention anything about work or la crisis.
This person both knows you and likes you. They are either a good friend or trying to figure out why you are walking around and smiling all the time. They are wearing an Oxford University sweatshirt or a t-shirt that says something like “100% champion American sports team.” It is also possible that this person is from the United States, which would make the t-shirt choice an attempt at comedy. In any event, settle in, because this person is saying “ I literally have NOTHING to do, and unless you stop me, I am going to talk to you for at least an hour.” Action required: Talk for an hour or make up a fake coffee meeting.
Cómo Está Usted?
There are only two possibilities here. Either the person you are talking to is Ecuadorian, or you are in court. Otherwise, why would everyone be speaking so formally with each other? Action required: Make sure you are nice to the judge. Avoid using common phrases like “Joder,” o “de puta madre.”
This person is definitely Spanish. They are saying “Hi. English lessons in this town are way too expensive, and I have a big exam/interview coming up, so how about we chit chat for a while so I can practice.” Action required: Keep walking, or send the person an invoice after what is sure to be a grueling conversation.