What’s the difference between a Brit and a Spaniard? One drinks a bloody mary and the other sangria. Well, not quite. Language is not the only difference cultures share. If you’re thinking about living and working abroad, understanding cultural differences is crucial, and not to be confused with cultural stereotypes.
Spain, like most countries these days is at a vicious war with the economy. Recent figures show that 6 out of 10 Spaniards under the age of 25 are unemployed, that’s 57% of the age group’s population! “No nos vamos, nos echan,” (We’re not leaving, they’re throwing us out), the popular phrase circling the young generation of Spain, clearly illustrating the anger against the government and Spain’s situation. Spaniards are leaving their sunny shores to seek work and a better life elsewhere, and a lot of them are heading for the UK. At the end of 2009, the Spanish population in the UK hit 57,350, by the end of 2012, it soared to 73,659.
What should a young professional Spaniard prepare for before landing in the UK? And what should the British expect from their new Spanish neighbours and co-workers? Let’s bridge the gap and understand each other before offending each other.
Spanish manners and customs
Tone of communication: Most British are cordial, will always queue and are quite reserved. On the contrary, the Spanish are loud, they beep their car horns and shout from windows. This is in no way to say they are rude. They are a passionate and social people who love to express themselves. Don’t be offended if your Spanish co-worker swears while working with you; this is a common sign of confidence and trust!
Politeness: The British are extremely polite. They never forget their please and thank-you’s and are the first to apologize. E-mails and exchanges between partners and clients are very formal whereas in Spain, these exchanges are rather informal and friendly.
Shaking hands and kissing: During introductions at external reunions or meeting new clients, Spaniards often greet and part with a handshake or a kiss on each cheek.
Time table: For someone who has lived in Spain most of their life, getting used to the British time table may take some, well, time. Here in Spain, morning is any time before 2pm. Lunch is quite a big event, perhaps not so much during the weekdays, but generally lunch is an hour affair, talking and socializing with co-workers and never to be eaten at the work desk. Afternoon is between 5pm and 9pm and only after is dinner served, sometimes as late as 11pm!
Directness: The British, being polite, may not be very blunt. The Spanish on the other hand are. It is not to say they are always pointing out mistakes and frustrations, but they see no reason in dancing around a subject when it can be said and solved in very few words.
Bridging the gap!
Cuisine: Bridging a gap with any culture can be as simple as sharing a meal. The culinary traditions of a culture are a fundamental part of their identity. Sharing foods and customs like the British afternoon tea or the Spanish ham will certainly bring you closer to your new co-workers…and leave you with a happy belly!
Sport: Both Spain and the UK are football fanatics! Share a Saturday or Sunday afternoon out on the field. Nothing brings people together like sweat and mud and beer.
These tips can also be shared in reverse as many British are seeking new opportunities in Spain. Knowing a little more about your Spanish neighbours, do you think you will better understand their customs and their mannerisms?
I’d like to make clear that this article was written with the intention of getting to know different cultures and customs rather than to stereotype.
Have you ever worked with someone from Spain? Do you currently work with someone from another country? Share your experiences with us! We’d love your input.