Appreciating the Differences

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of working abroad this summer has been the chance to experience the cultural differences between the United States and Spain, within the context of a professional work environment. For example, greetings are handled much differently. Whenever a new person walks into the office, everyone that knows them stands up to give a warm, traditional Spanish greeting of a kiss on each cheek. Before any work is discussed, a few minutes are spent catching up about kids, the past weekend, and the most recent Real Madrid futbol game. On the other hand, a telephone greeting is much more abrupt. True Madrilleños answer the phone with a quick ¨dime¨(tell me) or simply ¨¿si?¨. Phone calls are as efficient as possible, cutting straight to the point and hanging up immediately afterwards.

Another interesting difference is the concept of time. It is typical in the Spanish culture to run a few minutes late. An 11 o´clock Skype call with the Barcelona offices may not start till 11:20. It is not perceived as rude, like tardiness is in America, but is simply an understood and unstated cultural norm. This norm matches the lifestyle – things just generally happen later in this country. Instead of working the standard 8 or 9am – 5pm, many Madrillaños work 9 or 10am – 7pm. My intern hours are from 9:30am – 6:30pm. Lunch noramlly occurs between 2 or 3 in the afternoon. It´s encouraged to walk around with your coworkers outside, to go out together for coffee and ¨bocadillos¨, the traditional Spanish sandwich, which is a full baguette with typically some assortment of meat and cheese. Many offices even give their interns a two hour lunch break so that they can enjoy a siesta, or a mid-afternoon rest, a Spanish tradition still very prevalent in the culture today. As many people are working later into the day, dinner occurs much later, as well. The average Spaniard will have dinner between 9 and 10pm! Walking around at 11 o´clock at night, the streets are still tilling with life. Cafe´s with outdoor patios in the streets are packed with couples and friends enjoying drinks, plaza´s are still filled with people milling about and enjoying the warm summer night, even young children are running around playing in fountains and watching street performers.

Processing so many resumes of Spanish college students, there are also many differences I´ve noticed with the average American resume. There is a much less rigid standard for resumes, allowing more room for personality and creativity to shine through. They all include a picture of the applicant, often include color and large charts, may be half a page or five pages long, and a general description of the candidates apptitudes. It is common for Spaniards to take off time between high school and college entrance exams, completing complementary or additional courses in an area of interest, sometimes even completing a two or three year degree before entering a traditional four year university. Even Spanish names are very different. Almost everyone is identified by two last names, and sometimes two first names, for example ¨Jose Luis Fernandez Alfonso¨. The first-lastname is their father´s, the second is their mother´s maiden name. The names are all very beautiful – common girl names include Belen, Marisol, Sofia, and Raquel; and for boys, Juan, Luis, Javier, and Daniel. Nearly every applicant knows at least two languages at an advanced or high level. Almost everyone knows English, which has truly become the language of the world, and it is also common to find a variation of the Spanish language called Catalan, spoken in the north east region of the country, or even Portugese, as the Portugese share the Iberian Peninsula with Spain. Other common languages besides these include French and German, sometimes even Arabic!

As a coffee adict, I can´t forget to mention, the Spanish are all about espresso instead of the normal American cup of Joe. The coffee machine in my office is an espresso machine, which although it is only about a fourth of the size of a small Starbucks coffee, never fails to wake me up on Monday mornings!

Perhaps one of the differences I appreicate most about working abroad, is that even at a bustling company like Inditex, employing over 120,000 people and operating very similarly to what I would imagine corporate America to be like, there is a work to live, not live to work mentality. Our coworkers are all close friends, referring to one another affectionatly as ¨chicas¨ and ¨compañeras¨. We always eat lunch together, they happily pass along restuarant or beach suggestions, ask us about our lives back home in America, and spend time helping us practice our Spanish. While working in a very professional atmosphere and for a huge company, people and life are by no means overlooked for the sake of our work. This work-life balance is most definitely an attribute I will value and take into consideration as I begin my job search in America this fall. Between the lessons I´m learning as an intern and the cultural differences I´m experiencing, this summer is truly allowing me to solidify my values and a vision of what I wish to continue to pursue in my future career.

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