When in Rome… (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Gilbert on 23 March 2015

International Jet-setter Nick Elliott reports on the differences between three very different working cultures. Vive la difference!


I recently returned from Barcelona after participating in a one week Erasmus staff mobility exchange at Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
The experience on the whole was fantastic but the one thing which stood out was the cultural differences between British and Spanish working environments. This wasn’t too much of a shock, as it wasn’t my first experience of spending time in a different country, and although I was too scared to take the plunge and become a full-time international student, I was brave enough to decide to study abroad in Russia.
It’s true that at times, Russia can be a very forward thinking country but at other times, I found it a massive culture clash, which is probably the same feeling some international students have when they arrive in the UK. It wasn’t just the intricacies of the Russian language such as the Russian verb pisat, as it can both mean to write and to urinate (I spent most of my study abroad telling Russians that every day, I like to pisat), but it was also trying to understand a new set of traditions and values.
The one good thing which I gained from my ‘Russki experience’ was that it made me think about the interesting cultural differences between British and other countries’ workplaces, so starting with Spain, I’ve decided to share my knowledge in three daily blogs about Spanish, Polish and Russian working environments. This I hope will help students who are thinking about working abroad but please bear in mind that working practices in different sectors can vary, especially in multinational companies.
Allá donde fueres, haz como vieres (which is the Spanish equivalent of ‘when in Rome…’).
3 Cultural Differences between the British and Spanish Workplaces
Punctuality and Work Breaks
Regarding the accusation that most Spaniards follow a ‘mañana, mañana’ lifestyle, this is completely incorrect and the majority of office workers, just like the British, highly value good time-keeping.
Another fallacy is that office workers in Spain have a 3 hour siesta during their working day. This, which I found to my disappointment, only really applies to shops which don’t cater for tourists. Air conditioned offices and the demands of the labour market have sounded the death knell for the Franco introduced siesta.
Appropriate Communication and Workplace protocol
In regard to the ways in which Spaniards are programmed to work, in my opinion, this would be the biggest culture shock for a non-Spaniard who decided to work in Spain. Unlike Britain, the ‘after works drinks’ culture doesn’t exist in Spain as the Spanish are able to incorporate friendly chats with their colleagues during their working day.
Another thing which I found really alien was that the Spanish are really tactile and love to show their affection for you by wrapping an arm around your shoulders, caressing your arm or kissing you twice at the start of the working day. This behaviour would be seen as rather odd in a British workplace.
Cultural assimilation & awareness
Regarding equality and diversity, although Spain is becoming highly multicultural and in 2011 adopted new comprehensive legislation to conform to the EC anti-discrimination directives, Spanish offices are still very much homogenous and ‘banter’ which is seen by the Spanish as being light hearted, and which no longer occurs in British workplaces, can still be heard.
Annual Leave
Spanish workers are entitled to 30 calendar days of annual leave and 12 paid public holidays. An additional 15 days can be taken following a Spanish worker’s marriage and for moving house one day is permitted.
Hot-desking is a strange concept in Spain as a work desk is a Spaniard’s castle.
Words such as ‘sinergia and implementar’ have been transported from the English language into the Spanish workplace.

Picture thanks, under free common licence http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flag_of_Spain.svg

This image is from the Open Clip Art Library. All works included in the library are public domain.

Topics: networking, employability skills, International Students

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