February 5, 2014, by Guest blog
I learnt how to accept these cultural challenges as just another part of Spanish life
Post written by Matthew Walters.
Whilst you are abroad there are many cultural differences you must become accustomed to. Even though Spain is in the European Union and is just a two-hour flight away, there are still major differences in all aspects such as politeness and customer service, behaviour, punctuality, and even little things like shop opening hours. During my time in Spain I learnt how to accept these cultural challenges as just another part of Spanish life.
Starting with politeness: coming from the United Kingdom – one of the world’s most polite countries – it was at first quite difficult to know how to respond to Spaniards’ directness. Asking someone for directions, for example, would result in a quick point to the right direction and a blunt “over there”. I never knew exactly whether I was supposed to be equally blunt back, or retain my English values and thank them for their “help”. Frankly, I soon simply just stopped asking any local for directions anyway. By contrast, when you were talking to people you knew, like my boss or landlady, I had to exchange multiple kisses on the cheek – something I despise! It is simply not in my nature to have that kind of physical contact with anyone but close family and friends, and even then I don’t normally do that!
Perhaps the greatest cultural challenge when it comes to Spain is food: both in terms of what they eat and when. Spaniards like to have breakfast at about 8 pm, but hold off on lunch until about 2.30 pm. Lunch is their main meal of the day, and they then had a lighter dinner at about 10 pm. Since my stomach started rumbling at about midday, I, along with my fellow Northern European interns, ate lunch in the office at about 1 pm. It was simply impossible to wait any longer. And the same is true for dinner, which I usually ate at about 6 pm, because after a long day at the office I was starving. Needless to say, the Spanish eating times were not something I assimilated into. The only problem with this was whenever I went out for dinner, with most restaurants not accepting guests until 8.30 pm at the earliest, and even then there was no ambience because it was practically empty until about 10 pm, when suddenly the whole town seemed to descend on the centre.
The final aspect of the culture that is remarkably different is Spanish people’s attitudes to punctuality, reliability or any type of formality. For instance, there was not really such a thing as a queue; it didn’t really matter when I paid the rent, and schedules and timetables were not kept to. Meetings due to start at 11 am would begin as I sat down for lunch, and plumbers to repair the broken tap would rearrange appointments to tomorrow numerous times!
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