A meal with the Spanish can be an event that includes eating,
drinking, dancing, and entertainment so be prepared for a number of festivities
and don't make plans for the rest of the evening. If you get invited into a
local's home be sure to bring a gift, like chocolates, cake, or wine.
Once you arrive 15-30 minutes late, get past the gift giving, shake everyone's
hand (including women and children), and you're shown your seat most of the
formalities are done. The purpose of dining is to socialize so focus on this as
many of the dining rules are similar to the rest of Europe.
These similarities include not eating until your host does, keeping your hands within
sight during the meal, and eating in the continental style (knife in the right hand,
fork in the left), but when a knife is not needed, many Spaniards will use the fork
in the right hand and have bread in the left to push food onto the fork. If you
happen to be the guest of honor you may also be asked to give a toast, but let the
host lead this.
As you finish your food, eat everything on your plate as leaving anything is somewhat
rude and viewed as wasteful. Fortunately, the Spanish are more forgiving of picky
eaters than most and turning down a dish that does not appeal to you will generally
be accepted. After the meal be prepared for music and dancing; although this isn't
a rule, in many restaurants it is common, especially after a late dinner and most
dinners in Spain begin between 9:00 and 11:00 pm.
Another thing to remember if you're dining out is that the inviter generally
pays for everyone and if you're traveling solo, eating alone in a restaurant
for dinner is viewed as very strange so try to make a friend.
Tipping is not common in Spain, although rounding your bill
up is generally appreciated and not entirely uncommon among the locals. Unless you
are in a tourist restaurant that is used to foreigners, leaving no tip is normal;
in restaurants catered to foreigners, the wait staff does expect tips, but again
it is not necessary.
Spain has a large variety of non-alcoholic drinks including
one of the most popular, coffee, but also has soft drinks, tea, juices, and milk.
For a more local flavor, try solares, which is very popular, or any of
the local carbonated drinks, which include mineral water and citrus sodas.
When it comes to alcohol, Spain is known for its local wines
and this tends to be the most commonly drank alcoholic beverage as well. The wines
in Spain are served in numerous styles and various settings. Sherry is a strong
fortified wine that is to be slowly sipped while sangria is a combination of wine
with fruits and sometimes mineral water. Calimocho is wine mixed with Coke
and is not as popular, but is interesting and worth a try for the wine and Coke
fanatic. Mixed drinks, like the pina colada, and beer are also popular in Spain.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Spain,
but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people
may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be
different from what your system is used to.