If the cultural differences between a Spaniard and a Briton seem outrageous, then for a Spaniard, working with a German is like something from another planet, a parallel universe! If you don’t believe me, read on and you’ll see. Spaniards moving to the UK to find work has drastically increased in recent years, and with diverse cities like London and Manchester, you’re bound to stumble upon a German or Spaniard on the tube or during your workday.
Germans are punctual. They’re not only punctual – they invented punctuality! Spaniards have got to accept it; punctuality is not their strong point. For a Spaniard, arranging to meet at 11 perhaps means to only leave the house at 11. Their “I’m almost there” can put an end to patience, and to business!
While studying for my post-graduate degree, I shared classes with students from different Latin American countries, Spain and a few other European countries, and amongst them was a delightful German girl. The first time we met up after class, almost everyone arrived an hour later than the time we had arranged to meet. Everyone that is, except the German girl, who arrived on time. And over the weeks, it happened frequently, until she realised that no one was running late, but that we all arrived late on purpose! From then on, she also began to arrive late…but punctually!
For a German, being late is not just a lack of respect. Time is money and wasting it waiting around for someone who arrives 20 minutes late is being inefficient. A German will not only be on time for a meeting: he or she will be arrive 10 minutes early, because even Murphy and all his laws can’t get around a German!
Respect for rules. Germans keep them. All of them. Culturally, they have developed a strong sense of belonging to the community and established rules guarantee that it works well. In Spain and Latin American countries however, they love to decorate everything with lots of “buts”: “BUT this case is different”, “BUT if we don’t stick to them just this once, it won’t be a problem”, “BUT that rule is really unfair, I break it without even meaning to”. The Spanish may argue that they’re adapting to their situation, that they have respect for unwritten traditions and customs, etc… BUT, if you work with a German, you’ll find it difficult to justify that improvisation.
Germans are more efficient. Germans think, act and work for the good of the group, community or company they belong to.
In Germany, if you cross the road with children when a light is still red (even if there are no cars on the road), you will be frowned upon – and you may even be reprimanded – because of the bad example you are setting for the little ones.
Teamwork has a great hold on Germans; it boosts their capacity for planning, organisation and efficiency. From a young age, Germans are educated to be useful to society, as opposed to a Spaniard or Latin American, who’s culture educates them to be happy.
Regarding the work day, a Spanish mentality seems to keep to this motto: “If you’re actually in the office, you’re working. The longer you’re there, the more you work.” Whereas the German mentality links the work day to productivity. Taking into account that Germany is the OECD country, along with Holland, that works least hours, their system for being efficient – in view of their financial and business health – works!
For a German, yes is yes, no is no. And that’s it. Germans feed on reason at all times. Based on their criteria for efficiency, can emotions be measured and regulated? Well, there you go. On the other hand, the Spanish –to avoid hurting feelings or seeming impolite – say “Thanks”, “Maybe”, “We’ll be in touch” when really they want to yell “Nooooo!” The Spanish have decided to culturally complicate things. The Germans haven’t. It’s that simple.
The Holy Grail: privacy. For the Spanish, privacy is elastic, it grows or shrinks depending on their interests, and they have no problem mixing their work and personal lives. In fact, the Spanish believe that a close relationship with a client can align their positions for future negotiations. As for interpersonal distance, the Spanish’s’ is very short: they like physical contact for showing trust and affection. German culture avoids physical contact and their privacy is sacred and another’s approach may seem offensive. You have no idea how difficult it is for them to greet a stranger with two kisses!
This article is not an attempt to generalise because – as with everything in life – there are lots of elements to analyse. I’ve tried to trace a few cultural traits that one discovers when comparing the Spanish and the Germans. And the differences add up! I hope this article was useful for you whether you work with German or Spanish colleagues.
Do you agree with these differences? Would you add any more? What curious anecdote do you have to share with us? We’d like to hear your experiences.