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WEDDING

The ultimate guide to Spanish wedding etiquette

Big weddings are on again in Spain after months of delays due to the pandemic. If you've been invited to one and have never been to a Spanish wedding before, here's what to expect.

Spanish weddings have their own set of rules and traditions that are different from those in the UK or Spain. Photo: Alagich Katya/Flickr.
Spanish weddings have their own set of rules and traditions that are different from those in the UK or Spain. Photo: Alagich Katya/Flickr.

Covid-19 restrictions have meant that many Spanish weddings that were meant to take place during the summer of 2021 have been pushed back until autumn.

Some couples who’ve grown tired of the wait have preferred to elope and postpone the big celebration until further notice.

READ ALSO: ‘The perfect excuse to keep it simple’ – Getting married in Spain during the pandemic

But others are choosing to get married as the autumn sets in and temperatures start to get cooler in Spain.

Fortunately, limits on the number of guests have been lifted for the most part as the country has seen Covid infection rates drop and vaccination rates go up.

Overall, Spanish bodas (weddings) have become more intimate affairs, held mostly outdoors to limit the need for mask wearing and with food served in individual servings as an extra safety precaution against infections. 

But in every other sense, Spanish weddings are the same as always.

If you’re new to the country and have never attended a Spanish wedding, The Local brings you a few nuggets of wisdom to help you prepare for the spectacle.

Dress code

Always remember the golden rule: white is for the bride only. A more informal rule is that short dresses work best for day weddings, while longer ones are preferred at night. Other than that, feel free to dress up as much as you like; casual weddings are almost unheard of in Spain and ladies usually don their best cocktail dresses. The same goes for men – dark suits and ties are expected.

bride in wedding dress
A model in a white wedding dress. Photo: Mikel Agirregabiria/Flickr.

Accessories

Spanish weddings are littered with quirky accessories. You’ll see a lot of brightly coloured clutch purses, and more unusually tocados, known as fascinators in the UK. These are feathery, floral little headpieces common at day weddings. You can buy one for as little as €10, or spend a bit more to customize your own. As for shoes, always wear heels, and carry a pair of roll-up flats to change into if you’d like – receptions involve dancing and can carry on into the wee hours of the morning. 

You’ll also find that a fan – colour-coordinated with your outfit, of course – is the perfect way to keep your cool during the ceremony. 

peacock feather tocado
A peacock feather tocado. Photo: tiffany terry/Flickr.

Hair and Makeup

It’s fine to do your own hair and makeup, but most Spanish women have their hair professionally styled for the occasion. Remember that you’ll probably never attend a casual Spanish wedding – if such a thing exists – and guests are ALWAYS expected to look their best. 

Prepare yourself for some quirky traditions 

From throwing rice at the newly married couple as they leave the church, to cutting up the groom’s tie, sharing 13 gold coins or having the bride arrive in a carriage dragged along by oxen (if it’s in Castilla y León), there are plenty of unique regional wedding traditions across Spain which can cause jaws to drop among foreign guests.

Wedding gifts

These days, bank deposits or straight-up cash are much more common than the outdated norm of wedding registries and presents. A couple will usually provide you with their bank information on the wedding invitation; you can simply transfer the money from your account or deposit a cheque with your name and a short congratulatory message. Unfortunately, the hardest part is deciding how much money to gift. At the very least, you are expected to cover the cost of your banquet meal at the wedding. A minimum of €75-100 per person is customary.

Accommodation

Towns and villages along Spain’s coastline are enormously popular wedding destinations, and you’ll most likely have to travel to get there. These weddings are usually longer than one day and often include a welcoming dinner the evening before the big day. In that case, the couple will provide a number of suggestions to help their guests decide where to stay.

wedding in barcelona
A wedding in Barcelona. Photo: Joan Nova/Flickr.

Seating

Keep in mind that most Spanish weddings are much larger than their British or American equivalents. You’re likely to meet extended family, friends, more friends, and even acquaintances. During the church service, the front rows are reserved for close family. At large weddings, it’s not unusual to stand through the service. You’ll receive an assigned seat number for dinner.

Banquet

The pre-dinner apéritif and finger foods are abundant and delicious. Be prepared for a lot of beer, wine, seafood, and jamón. Afterwards, the banquet follows tradition; much like an average Spanish family dinner, the meal is served late (around 10pm) and is an opportunity to socialise. It’s an enjoyable affair that could last two or three hours.

sangria
A refreshing glass of sangria. Photo: Varitatio Delectat/Flickr.

Sobremesa

This delightful Spanish term lacks an English equivalent. Sobremesa is the post-dinner period of relaxation that gives guests a chance to enjoy coffee and a slice of wedding cake before the dancing begins.

Dancing

Once the bride and groom have had their first dance, close family members have their turn on the dance floor. After that, it’s acceptable for all the other guests to join in (although there may be Covid restrictions in the region where the wedding is happening that prevent this). At this point, it’s probably a good idea to exchange those heels for a comfortable pair of flats; don’t be surprised if the dancing goes on until it’s nearly time for sunrise.

wedding couple
Photo: Ally Mauro/Flickr.

Pace yourself!

It’s likely the night won’t end until you’ve had a 6 a.m. breakfast of fresh churros dipped in hot chocolate. That’s why it’s important to pace yourself – enjoy the flowing drink, but don’t go overboard as you will be expected to drink cocktails long into the night.

Wedding traditions vary from region to region, so you’ll learn not only about Spanish culture but also regional cultures wherever you go. And most importantly, remember to have fun! 

playa de bolonia
Playa de Bolonia in Cádiz, a popular beach wedding destination. Photo: Cayetano/Flickr.

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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