Sociocultural rules when speaking Spanish

How to greet, congratulate and give thanks and condolences in Spanish

If you study a second language or have had the opportunity to interact with speakers of other languages, you will have noticed that there are certain practices and particular mannerisms related to each culture.

Depending on the country or even the area, the conditions in which communicative action takes place is determined by the context. In each place, traditions unfold in very different ways and they take on different meanings.

Learning about customs and rituals or learning about daily life and special events are equally important when we view foreign language learners as someone who experiences complex social situations and someone who creates links and relationships. As you can see, these aspects go beyond the disciplinary knowledge of a language, as their essence lies in interaction.

For that reason, we will talk about some of these characteristics, in a Latin American context, which will help you in certain situations. For example, when you arrive in a new place and are unsure of the correct way to greet someone; if you want to thank someone for an act of kindness and express your gratitude without being overconfident; if you want to congratulate someone for an achievement; or if you find yourself in a delicate situation and need to know how to give your condolences.

In the following paragraphs, you will see the above-mentioned communicative situations in detail, based on paralinguistic, kinaesthetic and proxemic elements.

How to greet someone

Friendly greetings are common in countries such as Colombia or Mexico, even in rural areas in Colombia you will find that everyone says hello to each other as they pass.

While in urban areas, people don’t greet each other but when given the opportunity, it is typical to greet someone with a smile and a reassuring look. In some countries such as Argentina or Chile, it is common for men to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek but in Colombia it is more common for them men to shake hands.

In the case of a very formal context, a handshake will be enough to accompany the verbal greeting, but if you are meeting friends in a more informal setting, don’t be surprised by the closeness and affection, if it is not common to greet someone in this way where you come from.


The most common situation in which you congratulate someone, is when you are talking with your friends or acquaintances and someone mentions that they have achieved a goal or accomplished something that they have been working on for a long time.

In most Spanish speaking countries, public recognition is highly valued. For example, if you are in Colombia, you will see very empathetic and emotional expressions of congratulations between friends, accompanied by a friendly pat on the back. If you go to Andean countries such as Bolivia or Peru, you may notice a little less excitement in these situations.

Giving condolences

The act of giving your condolences is a very delicate situation due to the strong emotions that come with experiencing a loss, as well as the fact that mourning means something different in every culture. There are places in which the death is celebrated, for example in some towns in Colombia there are festivals to celebrate the passing on to another life or the celebration in Mexico, ‘El Día de los Muertos’ or the Day of the Dead, where people come together to commemorate their loved ones with happiness and joy. If you find yourself in this situation it is recommended that you observe, learn, and share with those in your company.

Expressing gratitude

The act of giving thanks is very common and in Latin American cultures it can be accompanied by various gestures. Among the most common gestures are nodding your head to express gratitude for an act of kindness, saying thank you when getting up from a table, before accepting or rejecting an invitation or a compliment. It is also common to express more emotional acts of gratitude, which may be accompanied by displays of affection such as enthusiastic hugs that reinforce the feeling of gratitude.

These are some examples of situations that you could find yourself in when visiting another country and if you have been left wanting more, check out our article ‘How to order a coffee in Spain’, which also places an emphasis on how to do things correctly in the given context.

Aris Cruz tutor entrelenguas

Aris Cruz

Spanish Tutor in Entrelenguas

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share this post

Fill this form in to get in touch!