Advanced Intermediate 26 – The Etiquette of Living In Spain or Being a Guest

slowly 26 invite

There’s a right and a wrong way to do everything.

Culturally, Spain is unique in as much as it has its own ways of doing things and behaving. Just like any country, there are certain rights and wrongs in how you relate to others.

What might seem like an innocent comment or a meaningless gesture to you can be taken as quite rude by a Spanish person if, unbeknown to you, you cross the line of what they consider “comportamiento aceptable.”

No te preocupes.

Before you start getting into a panic, we are not saying that the Spanish are intolerant. Quite naturally, they make allowances for anyone who isn’t from their culture and so, even if you were to commit a total “traspié” or faux pas, they would forgive you. If you are living in Spain or simply visiting, however, it’s best to know how to behave.

After all, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

The Cultural Divide.

Let me give you an example of something quite simple, yet radically different.

In Spain, when you are a guest in someone’s house and you want to leave, there is a process that you should adhere to.

You must give notice that you are planning to leave LONG before you actually want to leave. There is rarely a speedy get away form a Spanish household unless there really is an emergency. Rather, the geust begins to throw into the conversation that they really must be going as they have things to do.

The host then poo-poo’s that suggestion and offers more beer, food, crisps etc.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, which can last for a good hour or more, the guest then makes a move for the door.

Only when it is absolutely clear that they really are serious about leaving does the host go and get their coat.

The Spanish doorway stand-off.

This is when things get interesting. Their being by the door and having their coat on does not, by any means, indicate that the visit is over.

It’s here, in the doorway that the Spanish stand-off begins. A good fifteen minutes can pass in which host and guest talk about a wide range of subjects, the family, what happened with so and so, the plans for the following week or whatever happens to “surgir”.

At no time does the host give any indication that they wished the guest would just “irse de una vez” even though I have always had the feeling that deep down that’s exactly what they would love to say.

The repercussions of rushing out the guest.

I heard a story of a lady who was a once guest in someone’s house. Knowing that she had to leave within the next hour and a half, she did the normal thing by saying that she really needed to go.

To her shock and horror, the host went immediately and got her coat.

This was more than ten years ago and she still talks about it to this day! lol.

Listen into our podcast so you don’t have to be the talking point of some future host for the next twenty years. 🙂

Gordon: (Cynthia will kill me when she reads this. Gulp.)

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Advanced Intermediate 27 – The Irregular Spanish Preterite

welcome 27 adv interThe Spanish Preterite.

Why is it so challenging?

If you are new to Spanish, or a seasoned student, the Spanish preterite will always be a challenging area of learning. The reason for that is that if we set it against any other tense found within Spanish grammar, it will come out hands down as the most irregular.

It’s the only tense that doesn’t follow the standard endings that we find repeating themselves in every other and along with that, it often creates vague and changeable meanings to the verb.

All the more reason to learn it.

It’s for these very facts that the Spanish preterite is so important. We use the preterite tense so frequently that unless we can command it well “hasta dominarlo” our Spanish will always struggle along.

The good news is that because of the fact that we have no choice but to frequently use it, these irregularities can be easily learned through dogged repetition. (The greatest way of learning.)

Regularity with its irregularities.

This mean seem like an ‘oxymoron’, but the simple truth is that the irregular preterite, which is what we focus on in this particular podcast, is really quite regular. It would be better to view it more like an extra tense than a weird preterite one.

Apart from vowel changes which in themselves are grouped into families, the pattern of what is called the irregular Spanish preterite is very reliable and consistently repeats itself.


A frequent error made by students when they use the irregular Spanish preterite is to continue to add the emphasis to the end of the word, as though it had a tilde/accent like the regular preterite.

This is not the case and if you look at the conjugations of the irregular, stem changing Spanish preterite. There are no accents, thus demanding that the emphasis or ‘golpe de voz’ goes on the second last vowel.

Therefore, to say, “He said”, you must not push the emphasis to the end as many people do and say: “Él dijÓ”. Rather, the emphasis falls on the letter ‘I’ to give you the more smooth (and beautifully sounding) “dIjo.”

This applies to all of the stem changing preterite verbs, so be ever so careful when you use them. When you listen in to the following video podcast pay special attention to the way we pronounce the examples we give.

Remember that all of our podcasts come with a transcription, translation and a great Helpsheet that will guide you through the important parts of each grammar subject as well as test your understanding.

Hasta luego 🙂


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Advanced Intermediate 28 – Stem Changing Spanish Preterite

reading adv inter 28Tips on the Spanish Preterite.

In the previous blog we said all we wanted to say on the subject of why we should learn the Spanish preterite.
In this blog, then, which is the second in the series of the stem changing, irregular Spanish preterite, we will focus on some interesting tips of how the preterite is used.
We’ve covered this before, but as repetition is the mother of all learning, it cannot do any harm. ¿Verdad?

No Overlapping.

Did you realise that one limitation of the preterite is that it is totally sequential? That means that you can only use it to either speak about a specific event or to list a sequence of events.
You are not able to use the preterite to talk about two or more things that happened at the same time.
That’s the job of the Imperfect past. That’s why we say that you should listen out for the “was…ing, were…ing as a sign for when you need to use the Imperfect (ABA/ÍA)

Look at this sentence. Where did I fall?

“Esta mañana bajé las escaleras, me caí y luego salí de casa,”

If you thought that I fell whilst I was coming down the stairs you would be wrong.

FIRST I came down the stairs. THEN I fell. THEN I left the house.

Because I used the Spanish preterite, which cannot overlap events, my coming down the stairs was one completed event.

So that means…

This explains the rather strange way that the theory books talk about the preterite as a “completed action”. This is a term which has caused a mountain of confusion given that most students think it means that it’s an event that has been completed. In reality, EVERY past event has been completed. No wonder we get confused.

What they should say is that it is an event that has a clear beginning and end, or to be even more clear, an event that is totally measurable.

Unspoken measurement.

One interesting thing about the Spanish preterite is that, by choosing to use it you are showing that you CAN measure a particular event, even if you don’t actually mention a measurement in your sentence.

For example, the difference between saying, “Estaba aquí esta mañana.” and “Estuvo aquí esta mañana.” is that by using the preterite you are inferring that you could quite possibly put a time on his stay and that the event is over. He is no longer here.

By using the imperfect, however, you are intimating that you really don’t know how long he was present. You know he was here but that’s about it. There’s also a possibility that he is still here. With the imperfect everything is vague and unmeasurable.

Eso es todo.

There you have some handy observations about how to choose the Spanish preterite. We hope you found them valuable. All these tips and so much more are to be found in our Helpsheets, too, which have been designed with you in mind.

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Advanced Intermediate 29 – (Tú) Tu vs Usted Using Formal Spanish

tu or usted adv inter 28Which one do I use?

The question of “(Tú) Tu vs Usted” is always on the mind of students, especially when they are learning Spanish from Latin America.

Most of us will know that the difference between Tú and Usted is simply the level of formality or politeness you want to maintain between you and the person you are talking to.

In Spain, for example, once you are on talking/friendly terms you will “tutear” with that person. In fact, were you to continue to use Usted with someone, they would find it a bit strange. It would be like you were saying to them that you didn’t want to be friends with them.

Many things to many people.

Just because that happens in Spain, however, does not mean that the same applies throughout the Spanish speaking world. Not at all!

Certainly in many countries in Latin America, talking to someone in Usted is expected. Children to parents, work associates. In fact, some cultures expect you to use Usted with everyone, even with close family members and friends.

So, how will I know?

The answer to this is easy. Simply listen to what people are saying to you. If they are using Usted, you will hear it mentioned. The tip is that if they are using Usted, then you use Usted. If they switch to Tú, you automatically have permission to do the same.

Until you are very skilled at Spanish, it’s safer to use this system.

How to manage the situation.

There are ways that you can manage the way someone talks to you. For example, if someone is talking to you in Usted and you know that in their culture it’s acceptable to talk to one another using Tú, then you can say:

No me trates de usted.

Tratar means to treat. So this is saying something like: “Don’t treat me like an Usted.”

Another way of saying it is to say:

¿Puedo tutearte?

Tutear is the verb used to describe the act of talking to someone using Tú. Thus, this sentence simply means: Can I talk to you using Tú?

Use Usted as your default.

As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to address everyone you meet with Usted. Then, if you feel that there is a level of confidence growing, you can use the above phrases. However, the best thing is to take the lead from the person you are talking to. Let them guide you. You can be sure that if they want to use Tú, they will let you know.

They may do that by spontaneous changing to Tú during the conversation or they will tell you directly.  However, if they seem comfortable using Usted with you, then stick with it.

We hope that has helped to clear up a little confusion regarding the Tu vs Usted question.

Hasta la próxima.

Gordon y Cynthia 🙂

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Advanced Intermediate 30 – Spanish Culture and the Big Differences

cultural scaleSpanish Culture

Is it so different?

Given that Cynthia and I are from different backgrounds, (I’m British and she is Spanish.) we have been able to appreciate some of the key differences between the two countries.

Culturally, we are similar in many things and yet in others we couldn’t be more different.

In the Podcast we cover a number of areas in which we are different, yet in this Blog I would like to focus on one particular area of British and Spanish culture and that is, POLITENESS.

Rude or just Direct?

If the British are famous for one thing it’s their Hooligans and their Politeness. (Two things actually.) Putting the hooligans to one side, let’s focus on our politeness.

We do love our PLEASES just as much as we do our THANK YOUS.

The Spanish, however, are not so big on saying please and thank you. In fact, we British really do annoy them with our almost anally retentive need to bolt a ‘please’ onto every ‘yes’ and a hearty ‘thank you’ after each ‘no’.

“Do you want milk with that?”…”Yes, please.”…”And sugar?”…”Yes, please.”…”And a biscuit?”…”No, thanks.” and so on and so forth.

The Spanish, on the other hand, typically (if you’re lucky) give you a ‘please’ at the beginning and a ‘thank you’ at the end of each transaction. In between, a simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is quite enough for them.

And that works beautifully well in both countries.

Put a Spaniard in English culture or an English person in Spanish culture, however, and everything goes “patas arriba”.

British Politeness.

In the U.K., replying with a curt ‘yes’ when being asked whether you want something is tantamount to breaking wind in a lift. Any Brit worth their salt would be deeply offended and consider it extremely ‘rude’ behaviour.

Spanish Directness.

In Spain, repeating ‘yes, please’ ad infinitum makes a Spaniard suspicious of your motives and they might even think that  ‘ le estás tomando el pelo.” (You’re making fun of them.)

And so it’s these subtleties of the English and Spanish culture, or any culture for that matter, that can be very important to know.


Another interesting difference along these same lines is the Spanish ‘TUT’.

This is done when a Spanish person wants to say ‘no’. Sometimes, rather than saying ‘no’, they simply make a tutting noise two or three times and wiggle their finger from side to side.

Here in the U.K., this same action doesn’t mean ‘no’, it means “BAD PERSON/ACTION”. It’s a sign of disapproval.

The possible outcome of this double meaning.

So imagine the scenario: I ask Cynthia (true story) if she would like a tea. She answers me by looking at me with ‘desprecio’ and tutting whilst waving her finger at me.

As a Brit, I am flabbergasted that she can be so rude as to disapprove of my offering her a tea. What’s so wrong with a tea? What did I do to deserve that?

Of course, Cynthia is completely oblivious to my extreme reaction and thinks that she has simply refused a tea. She spends the rest of the day wondering what on earth has gotten into me.

And so, like this, onwards we went through the last ten years stepping on each others cultural taboos until now we just laugh at them and wonder how many more we will stumble across.

We are moving to Spain in a couple of years (the summer of 2016) so no doubt it will be my turn to tread on a few toes.

Deseadme suerte,

Gordon 🙂

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