Hispanic Culture Reference Guide
“Hola”, “Buenos Días” (Good morning), “Buenas Tardes” (Good evening), and “Buenas Noches” (Good afternoon), are the usual verbal greetings between Spanish speakers.
When encountering a friend, or even when introduced, kissing is common between women and women and men in most Spanish speaking countries, with some differences.
For example, in Bolivia, only women that are acquainted with each other may touch cheeks, and in Argentina, it is common for men to kiss each other as well.
In Spain and Paraguay, two besos (kisses) are the norm, but in most Latin American countries, one kiss is enough. This is a cheek to cheek type of kiss, not a kiss on the cheek, best not to do that, unless if you want something more. It is also very common to hug friends and family when greeting them. In a business setting, however, shaking hands is usually the norm.
It is also important to remember that, as mentioned above, different levels of formality, require different uses of the pronoun “you”. Therefore, in a business setting, usted and ustedes are the ones you should go with, but among friends, the use of tú or vosotros in Spain, tú or vos in most Latin American countries and vos and ustedes in Argentina and Uruguay.
When it comes to communication styles, there is a difference between European and Latin American Hispanic cultures.
Spaniards have a direct communication style, which means that they are usually straightforward and tend to voice their opinions clearly, expecting you to do the same.
Latin Americans are indirect communicators, choosing a thoughtful approach to convey their message, so as not to cause offence and avoid being rude.
Personal space and touching
Hispanic cultures are quite tactile and keeping a physical distance during conversation can be seen as unfriendly.
Types of physical interaction, such as an arm or elbow nudge are meant to show affection and encouragement.
Eye contact and gestures
Maintaining visual contact during a conversation is expected in Spanish speaking countries and demonstrates respect and interest, but remember to blink, as you do not want to come across as a psicópata. Also, you must keep in mind that pointing is considered rude.
Spanish Population in the United States
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Spanish spoken in the northern and central regions of Spain. There are three characteristics that make this dialect unique:
The use of the “TH” sound, similar to the one used in the English language, when pronouncing the letter “Z” or ‘C’ when it is followed by an ‘E’ or ‘I’, like Bar(th)elona, instead of Barcelona (this linguistic phenomena is called distinción).
Differently from the English language, Spanish, requires unique uses of the word “you”. In formal situations, usted (sing.) and ustedes (pl.). In informal situations, however, tú (sing.) and vosotros (pl.). But… Beware, vosotros is only used in Spain. We will get to that.
Embellishment of phrases using the present perfect tense, instead of the past simple. For instance, instead of saying “Yo fui a Barcelona.” They would say “Yo he ido a Bar(th)elona.”
Mexican and Central American
This area is home to several indigenous languages that the Spanish language came in contact with. As an example, in regions with Mayan influence, like El Salvador and Guatemala, the letter F is pronounced as P, given that the F sound does not exist in Mayan.
Just like in all other Spanish dialects throughout Latin America, vosotros is not commonly used, ustedes is usually the norm, both for informal and formal uses of ‘you’.
Although vos may be used among friends in some situations.
All in all, the Spanish dialect in Mexico and Central America is clear and easy to understand, even with the occasional slang, characteristic to each culture and country.
Spoken in the region of Andalucia in the south of Spain. Unlike the northern region of the country, here ‘S’ and ‘Z’ are pronounced the same way. So, for example, in the words casa (house) and caza (hunt), ‘S’ and ‘Z’ would have the same ‘S’ sound (this is called Seseo and it is commonly used in Latin American countries).
In some parts of the south ‘Z’, ‘S’, ‘Ce’ and ‘Ci’ are pronounced (th), meaning that sí (yes) is pronounced thi (Ceceo). Additionally, the letters L, R, N and D, are dropped at the end of words.
So, usted becomes usté, cantar (singing) becomes cantá.
Spoken in the Canari islands, off the coast of Spain. Because the people who arrived at these islands came mostly from Andalucia, this dialect is highly influenced by the Andalucian, and Seseo is observed. Omission of the d at the end of the words cantado equals cantao. Additionally, aspiration of the ‘s’ at the end of words is also observed: más, becomes mah.
Spoken in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina, it is highly influenced by the indigenous languages Qechua and Aymara.
One of the most distinctive traits of this dialect is that, in contrast with other Spanish dialects, it has a strong intonation of the final ‘s’ at the end of a word.
Spanish resembles Andalucian and Canarian Spanish, therefore, there is a tendency to drop the letters L, R, N and D at the end of words and also to aspire the ‘S’ sound at the end of syllables.
Due to American influence, in Puerto Rico, the ‘RR’ sound, characteristic of the Spanish language, is replaced with an ‘H’ or English ‘R’ sound. For example, perro (dog) would become peho, instead of perrrro.
This dialect can be heard in Uruguay and Argentina, a region that has been influenced by Italian immigrants that arrived in the 20th century. Unlike most of the Latin American dialects, the use of vos, instead of tú (which is not used at all!), is quite popular.
Additionally, the ‘LL’, usually pronounced ‘Y’, is pronounced ‘SH’. For instance, pollo (chicken), is pronounced posho, and not poyo.
Countries Where Spanish is the Official Language
Spanish is the official language in 21 countries (listed below). There are 539 million Spanish speakers worldwide, making it the 4th most spoken language in the world. It must be noted that the U.S., even though it is not a Spanish speaking country, is, in fact, the country with the second highest number of Spanish speakers worldwide, Mexico being the first.
As of 2019 there were 60.57 million Hispanics living in the United States, which makes Hispanics the second largest ethnic-group in the U.S. and Spanish the second most spoken language, after English. Most Spanish speakers in America have Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban backgrounds.
The states with the highest Hispanic population are: