If I had more time I could probably write a book about the peculiarities of working here in Spain and the differences versus the US. However, to avoid boredom, I’ll try to keep it short and sweet and just share some interesting thoughts.
Why do I think my insight might be interesting and different to other expat blogs? Well, to start, I’ve never had the typical “American in Spain English teacher” job. I tried giving some classes at one point when I was studying here and learned that I definitely lack patience for that profession. Also, I’ve worked in a variety of types of companies over here in Madrid: small Spanish consulting firm, non-profit educational organization, multinational American company. What do all of these have in common? At the end of the day, regardless of the international nature/origen of the business, if the company’s here in Spain, it is way more Spanish than anything else.
Let me just preface the following list of Working in Spain commentaries by saying that the degree to which this happens definitely depends on the company. Rather than specifically saying which company it happened at I’ll just leave it general (if you want more dirt you can contact me separately :)) Also, don’t take this all as criticism! A number of these points have positive aspects, in my opinion, compared to working in the US (see #1,2, 9, 10). Everything is a balance…
1. Lunch is not to be eaten at one’s desk or skipped and should be a full hour (at least). Back in the US I could probably count on my fingers the amount of times I went out for lunch with coworkers. Instead it was normal to go to the gym or just eat at your desk. In Spain, it’s definitely weird to eat at your desk, and if you skip lunch, there’s no correlation with leaving earlier. In other words, go out for lunch, take a break, and socialize (see #3).
2. A coffee break is essential, at least a few times a day. Taking a coffee break, whether it’s in the company kitchen or in a bar outside is key to getting up to speed with any news in the company or gossip. It’s also a good way to take a break from your work (kind of like if you’re a smoker…). And coffee is definitely not just for the morning here. An after-lunch coffee is right behind the morning dosage.
3. Getting along with people and going out for “cañas” after work is important. Social relationships are definitely more important in the Spanish workplace than in the US. You might be a great worker and deliver results but if you don’t get along well with your coworkers and the sales force forget about any sort of upward move. Also, when there’s a company dinner, coworker farewell party or christmas dinner, expect the festivities to easily last until 5 or 6 in the morning (for those who can last that long).
4. Complaining all the time is generally accepted and part of employee bonding, but it’s not that often that those complaints will actually be turned into constructive criticism and shared with management. The longer you’re here, the more you’ll find yourself complaining during your morning or lunch coffee break or during your lunch out of the office…
5. Political correctness does not exist. If something happens that you would consider sexual harassment back in the US, you have to think about it two or three times over here in Spain. Without getting into more detail let’s just say that male to female comments that would totally not be accepted in the straight-edge US are more often than not just normal comments over here. Now, I have to admit that sometimes it can be a bit over the top in the US where a male coworker can’t even compliment a female coworker on a nice outfit, for example, but having to listen to male coworkers’ comments about other females can be uncomfortable, at least for an American.
6. Yelling in meetings is not only common, it’s sometimes encouraged. Take it from someone who got told by her boss in an evaluation that if someone yells at her in a meeting that she should yell back. Really? How to Succeed in Business Rule #1: Yelling doesn’t get you anywhere or make you any more professional.
7. Expect meetings to start late, not end on time, and involve a number of confusing circular discussions without really getting anywhere or making any decisions. Also, don’t always expect the meeting organizer to be on time either.
8. Work doesn’t start at 8 or 9am (and sometimes not even at 9:30) and it definitely doesn’t end at 5. Does the song “Working 9 to 5. What a way to make a living…” ring a bell? Well, that’s one of those songs that’s definitely not known here. Unfortunately, in many companies it’s frowned upon if someone leaves at their official time and can be commented on by other coworkers. However, no one is watching to see who comes in early in the morning and commenting on that.
9. Vacation is for taking time off. I’ve heard a lot of cases in the US where people just don’t use their vacation days. Given that there are usually so few days back home, I can’t really understand this. In Spain, people generally have almost a month off a year in vacation. It’s quite common to take 2-3 weeks at a time during the summer. In my nine years working in Spain I’ve never known of someone to not use their vacation days, a slight postponement due to work perhaps, but never to not use them at all.
10. Fridays afternoons are like a “get out of jail for free” card. In all three companies where I’ve worked Friday afternoons around 2:30/3pm is when the weekend starts. A lot of Spanish people have lunch with their families after work these days or just relax, but in general it’s not the same intense work day as the rest of the week.
Again, the three companies I’ve worked at have all been very different experiences with the most recent job definitely being more demanding than the first two. However, to one degree or another, they all share some Spanish similarities.