Today's Olympics Country Profile: Spain


As London prepares for the 2012 Olympics, Team looks at some of the cities that previously hosted the Olympics. Today, we visit Barcelona, the site of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games where 162 nations sent their athletes to compete. This included, for the first time, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina competing as independent nations after separation from Socialist Yugoslavia. It was also the first Olympics since 1964 that a unified Germany competed at the Olympics.

Would you like to work, live or move to Barcelona? Or maybe just find out about life in Spain? Here is some information on one of the most exotic countries in Europe.

General conditions
Located in southwestern Europe, Spain with a population of 47 million, occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with Portugal. Spain's climate is extremely varied. Because of its topography and the influence of the northern Gulf Stream along the Atlantic coast and the warm currents of the Mediterranean to the east, most of Spain is sunny, dry, and warm.

The most pleasant weather in Spain occurs in late spring and early fall. The wide range of climate produces a greater variety of vegetation than can be found in any other European country.

The second largest city in Spain, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia or Catalunya in the Catalán language and a leading industrial and business center, as well as an important Mediterranean port. Home to 1.6 million, it is Spain's most cosmopolitan city.

The heart of Barcelona is the old city around the cathedral; this area is known as the Barri Gòtic. In the 19th century, Barcelona spread out beyond the old walls to create a new city based on a grid pattern with broad boulevards. It is still regarded as an outstanding example of urban planning and modern architecture. Barcelona prides itself on its human scale with low-rise buildings and a notable absence of glass and concrete skyscrapers

Learning the language
Most Spanish people speak the Castilian version of Spanish. For those doing business in Spain, a working knowledge of Spanish will be essential. Those relocating to the country should consider learning Spanish before departure.

The language of business is Castilian Spanish, which is spoken in most of the country with the exception of some regions where both Castilian Spanish and the regional language are spoken. While translation and interpretation services are available in major cities, a working knowledge of Spanish is essential.

You may find that the second language of an executive you are visiting is French, not English. This is particularly likely to be the case in Barcelona, where it's also worth using a few Catalán phrases in your business dealings to establish simpatía.

Understanding the people
The Spanish are a diverse people - a combination of many races and civilizations that have roamed, settled, and conquered the dramatic and beautiful land that connects Europe with Africa. The result is a gregarious, vibrant mix of different ethnic heritages.

From its "crossroads" location, bridging north and south, Spain has emerged as a modern homogeneous society with some internal cultural distinctions, mainly defined by dialect and regional loyalty.

Society has recently assumed a much faster pace and modern lifestyle, and the Spaniards have become a very forward-looking people. Contemporary styles and goals are replacing the customs of the small village.

Greetings, titles and names
The Spanish are formal and reserved and accord respect to each person. Use titles if appropriate, and do not use a person's first name until invited to do so. Men are addressed as señor. Señora is used in addressing or referring to any adult woman, regardless of her marital status, while señorita is now reserved for younger girls or teenagers.

Two-part last names are the Spanish custom, the first part being the family name of a person's father and the second that of the mother's family. In speaking, a person should be addressed using the first part: "Señor Gonzalez", if speaking to someone named, for example, Felipe Gonzalez Romero. First names are generally used between younger people and close friends.

The expatriate community
As a people, Spaniards are very tolerant of cultural differences and enjoy foreigners. Economic growth, increased tourism, and commercial integration into Europe have made Spaniards much more inclined to think of themselves as a part of a larger community, rather than isolated from neighbors over cultural conflict. However, while most Spaniards today are at ease with foreigners, they remain very conscious of their own cultural identity and history.

There is a large community of expatriates in Madrid, and similar communities in other major cities. Spain offers a comfortable lifestyle for foreigners to embrace. Visitors find pleasant facilities for living, working, and absorbing the culture of a modern European country with a special flair.

Food shopping
Plentiful produce and the freshest of seafoods dominate the local markets, especially in non-winter months. Milk and cheeses are excellent quality and readily available. All kinds of meats may be found, although cut differently than in the some other countries. It would be helpful for expatriates to learn the Spanish meat cuts and names to ensure satisfaction when shopping. Madrid has excellent fish and seafood delivered daily from the coasts, making it arguably the best place in Spain to purchase or dine on seafood.

Supermarkets and hypermarkets are found throughout the cities and large towns; many will deliver without an extra charge, if the purchase is over a certain amount. The small neighborhood shop that specializes in one or a few commodities still exists, but is facing severe competition from the supermarkets.

Many neighborhoods have local markets with a variety of beautifully displayed fruits, vegetables, and other foods available at vendors' stalls. The markets are usually open weekdays until 1900/2000, with a break for lunch from 1400 to 1700, but are closed Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.

In most areas of Spain, there are several types of schools from which expatriate families can choose. Partially state-funded private schools, called concertados, may require tuition, but must still adhere to national education guidelines and requirements.

Private schools require tuition, and may or may not offer coursework in nonregional languages. Private schools in Spain are often sponsored by the local Roman Catholic parish, or other area church.  The principal language of instruction in state-funded schools is either the regional language, or Castilian Spanish.

There are a number of schools in Spain designed to accommodate expatriate children. Some offer curriculum based on that of a home country, some follow the Spanish educational system, and some offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

All schools offer kindergarten programs through the secondary level, and some offer pre-kindergarten programs.

Spain today is a parliamentary monarchy with the king as head of state. Executive power rests with an elected prime minister, usually the leader of the strongest party in parliament. The parliament, or Las Cortes Generales, is made up of two houses, a 350-member Congress of Deputies and a 259-member Senate.

All the Deputies and 208 of the Senators are elected for four-year terms. The remaining 51 senators are nominated by the 17 "autonomous" communities in Spain. These autonomous communities include the Basques, the Catalonians, and several other regions. These regions are not fully self-governing, but they have been granted authority to deal with a variety of local issues.

Time zones
Spain is on Greenwich Mean Time from October to March, and from April to September Spain is one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Holidays and festivals
As decreed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, no region of Spain can have more than 14 official holidays. All regions of Spain must observe the following holidays:

January 1: New Year's Day
May 1: Labour Day
October 12: National Day
December 25: Christmas

Each urban center and region has its own fiesta, which is a local holiday. Madrid, for example, celebrates in May and July, Barcelona in June and September, and Valencia in October.

During the weeks before, during, and after Easter and Christmas, many people are on vacation.

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