February 5, 2014, by Guest blog

I thought the preconceptions were just stereotypes…I was mistaken

Before living in Spain, I presumed that all the preconceptions I had about life here were just stereotypes. I was mistaken. Even though Spain is a county frequented by many Britons, there is a stark cultural difference and most of the typical things associated with Spain are actually quite accurate, especially here in Seville and Andalusia in general.

blog image flamencoABrownSome differences are charming. For example, you can turn a corner and there will be a man playing a guitar whilst singing in a traditional flamenco style and if you are lucky maybe a woman dancing with a flower in her hair. However, this same man could interrupt a meal that you are eating outside by pestering you for several minutes for money after his impromptu performance. This just would not happen in the United Kingdom and I am still trying to find a way to polite say no to these persistent demands for money.

I think that being British has played a large part in contributing to the cultural challenges I have faced during my time abroad. A prime example is the (apparently) British concept of queuing. It’s just not done here and it can be even more infuriating if someone jumps in front of you because everything takes so long here, whether it is changing your address at the bank or ordering frozen yoghurt. I honestly would not like to add up the time I have spent waiting in Spain for something which would take two minutes in the United Kingdom.

The use of the imperative is also something that goes against every fibre of my being. If a child at school says ‘hazlo’ ( do it ), my immediate reaction is to think ‘only if you say please’ but that is just the normal way of speaking here.

As a language assistant the strongest cultural challenge has been that of attitudes and behaviour in the classroom. I work in a secondary school in a village where the primary source of employment is olive picking. The majority of children have very little interest in education in general (something I was told on my first day) let alone English and I’m with the bilingual groups who are supposedly more motivated and higher achievers. I teach a wide range of subjects, not just English and I can safely say that the topics covered are not parallel to those in the UK which is one difference. Another difference is the fact that there are no national exams to be passed which makes it even harder to motivate the children. There is a lack of respect for teachers and fellow students which coupled with the lack of effective reprimanding results in a school atmosphere completely different to that in the UK.

However, the biggest cultural challenge I face frequently is the unintentional dismissal of my nationality. I am Welsh but as far as the Spanish are concerned, I am permanently labelled as English. Having to effectively explain that Wales is not a city in England but its own country with a different culture and history is something I’m yet to achieve. The only way people recognise Wales as a place is if I mention Gareth Bale and even after I’m still referred to as an English girl. The lack of understanding of the parts of the United Kingdom and the refusal to accept the difference between them is frustrating and one is a challenge I have to overcome on a regular basis.

Posted in Cultural challenges