Spain cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
As a general rule Spanish people are very curious about foreigners and will be the first to address a newcomer. Spanish culture is very welcoming and wants to make sure the visitor feels comfortable among us. So firstly, he or she will be asked about the impressions of our country (cuisine, customs, weather, etc) to make sure the person is doing fine and is enjoying his/her stay. If the foreigner shows appreciation, especially for our cuisine and wines, any Spaniard will be extremely pleased. On the contrary, people will get very offended if the foreigner dismisses one or the other in favour of our close competitors the Italians and French.
On the other hand, Spaniards are very proud of their culture and history, so an excellent way to make a good impression within a first contact is by showing acknowledge of either Spanish culture, mostly related to the city where the person is in such as painters, writers or historical sites, or sport achievements in any field (soccer, tennis or cycling). It is preferably to talk about culture to a woman and about sports to a man, since Spanish women are not very fond of sports.
It is very common that Spaniards test foreigners’ knowledge about our culture by asking all sorts of questions about the above mentioned subjects or even politics. Therefore, it is highly recommended to get information about those subjects in advance, although it is better to avoid getting into a discussion about politics or nationalistic topics. Every region is different and within the same regions there is a wide range of opinions and positions.
In Spain there is a mixture of a lack of self-confidence as a well-managed first world country, and a pride of our culture and style of life. Spaniards might tend to be distant until they feel comfortable with the visitor. Mainly because not a lot of Spaniards speak another language and they might be afraid of getting into a difficult situation. They will try to speak about what they know, just to be friendly.
A good sense of humour is something that is very appreciated in Spain. So a great approach at first contact would be to make a joke about oneself, for instance, about the difficulty of pronouncing certain words or how some words lead to funny social misunderstandings. In that way, it shows that the person is not only approachable and friendly, but that he/she appreciates our culture and makes an effort to integrate and accept it.
As Spaniards are very self-conscious about getting into embarrassing situations, they will often get offended if they have the impression they are very being mocked for their accents or bad pronunciation in a foreign language even the speaker is talking in general terms. For the same reason, avoid topics relating to physical appearance or age.
A topic that must be avoided at all times is money. Spanish people feel uncomfortable talking about it or giving information about their economic situations. Family is a topic better left for future meetings or deeper relationships.
First introductions in Spain are very different from those in Canada and tend to be much more relaxed and informal. Whereas the primary topic of conversation in an introduction between two Canadians is "What do you do for a living", it is often the last topic that would be brought up during an introduction with a Spanish person. In fact, asking a Spanish person what he or she does for a living at the initiation of an introduction could be interpreted as pretentious. The degree to which it might be interpreted in this manner varies by region, with less acceptability in the South and greater acceptability in the North.
The Spanish are much more likely to use humour to start and introduction, even for introductions in the workplace. There is a general conception that some humour or casual conversation should precede any serious discussions (eg. meetings with clients) to avoid appearing too serious. In general, a Canadian can feel more comfortable in Spain about telling a joke or a funny story without being overly concerned with political correctness. Besides humour, commenting on how much you enjoyed a meal or a particular delicatessen always appeals to Spaniard’s pride of their cuisine. Likewise, it is usually very safe and leaves a good impression when introduced to a male Spaniard, to discuss European or Spanish soccer.
The distance when speaking to someone is shorter, compared to North Americans. But it still exists at least half a metre between the two faces. This personal space decreases as the relationship gets closer.
Whatever the emotion they are showing, Spanish people tend to speak louder and gesticulate a lot more than Canadians, especially with their hands. They do not mean to intimidate or offend. They are more expressive and emotional, so they like acting while speaking. They usually act out the event they are explaining or reproduce scenarios or voices.
Eye contact is important but can be replaced by gestures, noises or exclamations showing assertiveness and signalling that one is paying attention.
Whether there is touching while speaking really depends on the relationship with the other person. Generally, it can be done among women and men, but it is restricted to friendly situations where there is a lot of trust (professional or not), never in discussions or disputes. One would only touch the shoulders, higher part of the arms and elbows, with a quick tap or movement to add emphasis; never the head, the neck, hands or legs.
Physical contact is less common among men than among women; it is socially acceptable for there to be contact between men and women (whether in a professional setting or not).
In Spain, it is a habit to greet someone with a kiss on both cheeks; this does not go with an embrace. In a professional situation this custom is being substituted by a handshake.
People expect to be addressed directly but with respect. It is best to use the "Usted" form when referring to an older person or to someone in a higher position, until permission to use "tú" is given.
In casual introductions and encounters, Spaniards will always give two kisses between males and females and between females and females. Men will address each other with a handshake. In such casual settings it is important to introduce yourself to everyone within a group, regardless of how large it may be. In business settings, it is safe to assume that a handshake is most appropriate.
In terms of the distance between people when they speak, an expat working in Spain does not need to worry about offending anyone or appearing a particular way be speaking at a distance that would be normal in Canada. However, he or she should expect that Spaniards will often approach very closely when speaking. In such situations, it is best to either become accustomed to such proximity when in conversation or to find subtle ways of distancing oneself. Also, keep in mind that Spaniards tend to speak very loudly, even across small distances. With respect to the tone of voice or facial expressions, Spaniards are sufficiently accustomed to people from all over Europe who have different ways of expressing themselves and different accents and tones when speaking Spanish. An expat speaking in Spanish is likely to be allowed a wide margin of interpretation. For this reason, when speaking less than perfect Spanish to a Spaniard it is best to pay attention to his or her facial expressions in case they react strongly to something you say. If there is, there may be a miscommunication and the expat will be easily forgiven.
Display of emotion
They are well accepted in general terms since the Spanish are very emotional; however, it depends on the emotion, the situation and towards whom it is shown. It is very common in Spain to show affection in public, although much less so among a group of people, especially during meals. Still, kisses (even on the lips), holding hands and caress are a common thing at a table.
Anger is shown very often, although more commonly in rural areas than in the cities and mainly in reaction to children’s behaviour or between couples. It is not accepted when it implies violence.
Public display of affection is very common and perfectly acceptable in Spain, including in situations that would make many Canadians feel uncomfortable. It is not uncommon to see couples kissing at restaurants even when in the company of others. It is also quite acceptable to show anger and emotion in public but less in the northern regions than in the south. The Spanish tend to be fairly outspoken and speak very loudly and it is common to see public expressions of anger between families and couples. Also, where a Canadian family might choose to reserve some emotions or anger until they are in the privacy of their own home, a Spaniard might be more likely to express his or her emotions in public, and freely at that.
Dress, punctuality & formality
The dress code depends entirely on the kind of job. Generally speaking, people tend to pay more attention to their clothes and to fashion than in North America. Women dress in a more feminine way in most situations.
In a bank, office or other similar environments, women are not forced to wear a suit and, in fact, they tend to use other pieces more according to fashion than to protocol. Meanwhile, men usually dress more formally. Most of the time wearing a suit is mandatory. Shorts, sandals and other kinds of casual and sporty items are strictly forbidden, for both women and men. Actually, it is better to over dress than to show up too sporty, which shows a lack of respect and formality.
Ear piercing is fully accepted in women but not in men, so an employer may have a policy against it. Other kinds of piercing, hairdos or tattoos follow the same rule and could lead to the worker being laid off or simply not hired. The fact that it is mandatory to enclose a recent picture in one’s CV, gives and idea of how important appearance is in Spain. It doesn’t have a racist purpose, but it reassures that the person looks tidy and meets the standards described above.
It is not improper to ask openly about the issue if there is any doubt about it.
The way to address people is with the word Usted instead of the person form "tú". The "Usted" form should be used during the first encounters until the person gives license to use tú. We will use tú at first when the person is younger or the same age.
Generally, we use Usted combined with the first name. In an office environment, talking to an older person with a higher position the Usted formula, plus Señor o Señora, plus the family name should be used at all times. For example, for Pedro Pérez: (Formal/office): ¿Cómo está Usted Señor Pérez? (Formal/in general): ¿Cómo está Usted Señor Pedro? Informal: ¿Cómo estás Pedro?
Both in either formal or informal workplaces, it is common as well the use of nick names.
Regarding the approach of time, the impact of deadlines, punctuality or absenteeism is the same as in North America. It depends on the nature of the job, but in general terms, being on time is expected.
The tolerance for showing a low productivity is larger, though and it depends on the time of the week and the year. Generally, the work week is from Monday to Friday, so on Friday activity tends to slow down. It is a common practice to have an intensive schedule (starting earlier in the morning and leaving earlier in the afternoon) only during the hot months of the year, May to September. This allows people to avoid the traffic jams to get to their summer residences, since it is a general practice that middle-class families get away from the cities during the weekends.
Concerning the subject of business dress, what is deemed acceptable depends very much on the region within Spain. In general, the Spanish are quite formal and it is probably best to assume, unless told otherwise, that business dress (suits for men and women) is most appropriate. That being said, many workplaces in Spain have adopted policies on casual attire. In such workplaces, it is appropriate for men to dress with a slacks and either a button up shirt of (possibly) a golf shirt. Women, on the other hand, appear to dress very liberally in situations of casual attire and will often show a great deal of skin in the summer months.
In terms of protocol for addressing colleagues and supervisors, it will depend a great deal on the age of the person and the nature of the workplace. In general, a colleague or supervisor in an office setting that is significantly older (25 or 30 years older) should be addressed as ’Senor’ (equivalent to Mister) using the formal pronoun "usted". There is little risk offending a colleague or supervisor by addressing them by their first name or using the "tû" form. The average workplace in Spain is informal where most employees, save perhaps the General Manager or President, are able to joke around and address each other very informally. However, there are workplaces dominated by ’old school’ managers who favour a very serious work atmosphere dominated by formality that follows hierarchy. It is important to try and read the situation right at the beginning. Spanish colleagues, if they are accustomed to an informal setting, are likely to be hostile towards a foreigner who takes a very formal tone and insists on being addressed very formally.
With respect to timing, punctuality and deadlines, there will be significant differences across regions in Spain. Northern regions such as Catalunya and Basque country place a lot of importance on punctuality, sticking to deadlines, and productivity; Andalucia and other southern provinces, less so. There is a noticeable difference in the pace of life and business between the two areas, as well as a noticeable difference in productivity.
Preferred managerial qualities
Education in Spain is considered very important and, although experience is known as more useful in the actual working world, people tend to be judged according to their level of formal education. Spanish inquire openly about one’s educational background.
Although most bosses will appreciate hard work, if someone shows off by being a hard worker or staying longer to finish some work, the boss will think that the person is trying to impress him/her and the co-workers will consider the person as an unfaithful competitor. It is better to act according to the rhythm of the rest of the working environment. Finish all the work at the given time and efficiently, but avoid over-working.
It is good that the boss shows interest about the employees personal life, but it is better that the boss keeps his/her personal life quite private. Although some confidentiality between boss and employee is expected, gossiping is a well-known habit of Spanish people.
If the manager is not a local, all of his/her characteristics will stand out. If he /she is respected it will be more respected, if intelligent, he/she will be considered more intelligent, or serious, etc. The bad things will be emphasized as well, and people will tend to generalize about the country where the manager comes from.
It is difficult to get realistic feedback from staff. Spanish people still show a lot of respect and attribute a lot of power to their bosses. The best possible way is to use an anonymous quiz or suggestion box so that employees don’t feel their positions are threatened when they raise a problem.
Management in Spain can be loosely classified in two different ways: 1) the "Old Guard"—very formal, authoritative, and traditional, and 2) the "new generation" of managers—less hierarchical and more teamwork oriented. Qualities of a ’new generation’ manager include: personable and able to foster casual yet professional relationships, dynamic, humble, and compassionate. These are all highly valued qualities in a manager. A manager’s education may be valued by his or her employees; however, the worst mistake a new manager can make is to boast about the quality of his/her education or experience. In Spain, there is the belief that most people who have attended the best schools have done so on the merit of their parents and not their own.
The situation is very different for an expat who enters an organization as a manager. Expectations of North American managers are usually high; a great many Spanish perceive North American managers to be more evolved than their Spanish counterparts. One quality that is particularly important for a foreign manager is to be open-minded and responsive to input from the local people. Local employees are likely to develop animosity toward a foreign manager that imposes ’new way of doing things’. The Spanish are proud and will look for the foreign manager to be dynamic and creative, but to operate with a full understanding of the local situation and way of doing business.
Hierarchy and decision-making
Spaniards tend to avoid responsibility but when it is given to them, they take it very seriously. It is expected that the person in charge will make the decisions. And they are hard to change once they are implemented. But the managers tend to hold meetings to inform staff about them, and then there is the possibility to make changes and suggestions before they are fully implemented.
It is not a common practice in Spain to go straight to one’s supervisor to ask for feedback. They tend to interpret behaviours and comments and not to clear them up or seek confirmation. But it is very appreciated when an employee does so. It shows interest and a straight-forwarded personality.
In "Old Guard" organizations, decisions are made in a very hierarchical fashion. In the private sector, many large and small businesses have their origins in a family business and are managed tightly from above. In such organizations, the appropriateness of approaching immediate supervisors for answers or feedback will depend on the status quo of the particular organization and the approach of the supervisor.
Spain has advanced significantly in the 20 years following the Franco regime and has recently had to compete with more dynamic counterparts in the European Union. As such, many of the organizations have adopted flatter organizational structures and a more dynamic environment. These organizations have often had to manage significant change in recent times and are quite agile at doing so. Decision-making power in such organizations is likely to be more dispersed and conducted in a more consultative manner. These organizations may or may not have established channels of communication for employees to ask questions and receive feedback, but this practice is usually encouraged.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
Women and men are considered equals by law and in a general sense. But still there are discriminatory behaviours against women in certain levels of society. Companies find legal ways to pay less to women that are doing the same task as men. Women are preferred in certain tasks because they are considered less conflictive than men.
Employers prefer not to hire women that are married and in the age range of having children to avoid paying for maternity leave. And it is a common practice asking openly about marital status and future family plans in a job interview. For men it is seen as a good sign of maturity and stability; for women it is seen as a probability of a high level of absenteeism.
In general, gender is not a restricting feature of any kind, though in private life, women assume the major part of the work at home and the education of the children. This fact is changing among the younger generations and these changes are well regarded by the oldest generations. It is important to mention that there is a big difference between the rural areas and the cities.
Catholicism is the most common religion in Spain. People are not discriminated against by religion either in the workplace field or in social life. Spaniards don’t usually ask about religious beliefs because they are assumed to be the same. But if there is a difference it is not an issue that would be a basis for discrimination.
Most of Catholics in Spain call themselves "believers" but not "practitioners". This means that they have been baptized and married according to religious ritual but that they never follow the other religious practices.
Social class in Spain is not relevant in terms of social relations or labour opportunities. Classes are divided according to money and not race, religion or any other factor. Culture and education are more important in order to succeed. A person from a lower class family who is well educated has the same opportunities for success as a person from a higher social class. Education, at all levels, is free in Spain.
There is only one class that is really different from the rest of Spanish people: nobility, which is very small. It is not even considered a true class since the possession of a noble title does not ensure possessions, money, special treat or any other favours. Spain is a democratic country where all the people have the same privileges and opportunities. The only advantage is the glamour related to such families.
Spain has been traditionally a very racially homogeneous country, all white, but mostly "latin-looking" in the southern regions and Caucasian-looking in the northern regions. But this fact is presently changing, given globalization and immigration. Spain has been traditionally a country of emigrants and not immigrants.
There are two distinct ethnicities that suffer from discriminatory behaviour in Spain: the gypsies and the Moors.
Gypsies in general have always been rejected for their complete different way of life. They usually only follow their own regulations and "patriarcas" (head of each family) and refuse to live according to any central national government laws or to any of the western standards like housing, jobs or education. Because of the huge differences with the "payo" (majority) culture, people are usually scared and consider them thieves, pocket lifters and tend to discriminate them in job opportunities, housing or education. Their way of life inside a western culture does not help to adjust and get money or a comfortable life, which has contributed to young gypsies suffering more the effects of drug addiction and the criminal world related to it. This hasn’t helped in their integration in society despite huge efforts all the democratic governments in Spain have done to approach this community.
Traditionally, Moorish culture has been seen negatively in Spain; this includes Moroccans, Algerians, Lebanese and Turkish. Nobody really knows the reason of the aversion against northern Mediterranean culture since they have contributed in a great deal to Spanish culture. The truth is that Spanish people discriminate against them. They say they don’t trust them because they trick people. This discrimination is not related to skin colour, race or religion practises. It doesn’t apply for people from Middle or Far Eastern countries and Iranians, south Arabians, etc, don’t have the same mistreatment. In fact, they are very well respected.
The rural and southern regions tend to be less progressive in their attitudes towards and treatment of women. The management of organizations operating in these regions tend to be almost exclusively dominated by men and the clerical positions occupied by women. The rural and southern cultures reinforce the gender stereotypes whereby men are responsible for putting ’food on the table’ and are largely absolved of the other family responsibilities that fall upon the women.
The northern regions and the large cities are significantly more progressive than their southern and rural counterparts, but it remains a male-oriented culture. Middle-age to older generations still live in a culture of reinforced gender stereotypes. The younger generations in Spain, especially women, have largely rejected the gender role that confined their parents and have become very progressive. Many more women are pursuing their careers as a priority over having children, getting married, and looking after their husbands. Many more men are becoming more progressive about gender equality and are involved in the same issues that accompany dual- career relationships and families.
The attitudes regarding women in the workplace will vary according to the region of Spain and the culture of the organization. More progressive organizations and organizations managed by "new generation managers" are increasingly dominant in the workplace and are relatively free of gender issues. People in the more progressive organizations will often have fun by blatantly reinforcing gender roles in casual conversation. Expats from North America are often not used to this type of joking, which is a common feature of the Spaniards sense of humour and relative lack of political correctness in the workplace; it is not usually intended in any manner that is sexually discriminatory.
Spain is often cited as the most catholic country in the world, mainly because of the piety of the people. Due to Spain’s long history of banishing other religions, there are very few non-Catholics in Spain and very little understanding of those who practice other religions. Due to the homogenous culture, there are heavy stereotypes placed on people of other religions. This is particularly the case for non-Christian religions.
That said, most younger generation Spaniards will say they believe in God but do not practice their faith. Nevertheless, there is a strong identification with the Catholic Church and the overwhelming majority of Spaniards baptize their children, get married in church, paying taxes to the Church, and celebrating catholic holidays and religious ceremonies.
Spain is a relatively class-conscious country compared to Canada. The lower class is largely comprised of Spaniards migrating from the southern provinces to northern cities such as Barcelona and Madrid to work in manual labour. It tends to be concentrated in lower class neighbourhoods in the large cities and in whole towns outside industrial centres, a clear partitioning that is reinforced by a system that places great importance on private school education, private health coverage, and exclusivity. Spain is a country in which a person’s appearance within the community is very important. It is not uncommon for middle class families to stretch the limits of their financial abilities to send children to private schools and exclusive universities. This is despite a reasonably good public education system.
As mentioned above, Spain is a very homogenous country with little exposure to people of different ethnicities. For this reason, there are heavy stereotypes placed on people of different ethnicities and there is widespread discrimination. Expressions such as "that is a black man’s job" to characterize a job requiring a lot of heavy labour, or a "Chinaman’s job" to characterize a job requiring small hands or meticulousness or still very commonplace. Although an expat that is a visible minority in Spain will undoubtedly face strong personal and professional stereotypes, standing in the community (by nature of profession, education, ability to speak the language and local dialects) will count for a lot and the community is likely to greet the person with reasonable open-mindedness and curiosity.
The most significant issue of ethnicity relates to the problem of illegal immigrants and integration of people from northern African countries such as Morocco and Algeria who are often grouped in with other Muslims. Indeed, there is a widespread tendency to group all Muslims and Indo-Asians together. There is a very destructive ethnic tension between the general population and "Muslim-looking" people which is quite unique to this group; other groups being quite small. People of all ethnic minorities are looked upon as foreigners.
All of the factors mentioned above will impact the workplace quite significantly and will depend on the nature of the workplace and the region within Spain. It would be important for foreigners likely to face negative stereotypes to master the Spanish language and be open to learning local dialects. This would be less true for an expat of Anglo-Saxon Christian origins.
It is not expected that one establish a relationship of this kind in advance. It is more relaxed than that. These relationships are developed by working together. Spanish people are given to celebrate a lot of social events inside the work environment in order to promote social relationships such as lunches, dinners or even one-day trips to a well-known cultural event. What it is important in order to integrate is to not refuse to attend those events. That would be considered impolite and antisocial.
It is imperative to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business, even if it is a light exchange of niceties. A failure to do so with a colleague could be interpreted as a "brush off". Because of the distance that often exists between higher and lower levels high authority in an organization, a lack of interest in developing a personal relationship with a colleague could be construed as a desire not to associate yourself with colleagues of a certain level. Similarly, a client may perceive a lack of interest in their business.
Success in working with colleagues and clients will often depend on the extent of the personal relationship because of the value that is put on sociability. Business is conducted more on the basis of personal relationships than it is in North America. For this reason, it is important to develop trust in personal character and a casual comfort in relationships with colleagues and clients. The easiest way to establish relationships with Spanish colleagues and clients is to be curious and inquisitive about their culture. The Spanish are very proud and are pleasantly surprised when a foreigner takes interest in their culture and language. These relationships do not have to go outside of the workplace, and seldom do.
Privileges and favouritism
In general, a different treatment would be expected, but it depends on the proximity of that relationship. If it is family, not giving those privileges could be considered cruel rather than honest. So the privileges mentioned above will be expected. If the relationship is one of friendship, the grade of privileges depends on how close these friends are. In any case, the Spanish tend to take advantage of close relationships in the working environment in order to get some kind of special treat or concession if needed. It is accepted, that in those cases, people chose the timing to ask for them. It is always a favour and not a demand. This means that presents are expected in return as a show of gratitude.
It is unlikely that a personal relationship that remains a casual relationship in the workplace would result in expectations of privilege. However, the importance of ’connections’ in the workplace is of equal, if not greater, importance than it is in North America. The dynamics of privilege for friends in the workplace are largely the same as they are in Canada and should be handled in much the same way.
Conflicts in the workplace
The best way is facing the person directly but privately. Remember that appearance in Spain is very important and putting someone in an embarrassing situation could lead to future problems of resentment in socializing.
Spanish people tend not to complain about their problems directly to the person they are having them with. They do it with family or friends from out of work, and eventually with a close friend from the working environment.
Manners are important in Spain, so it is hard to find out when there is a problem. It is a question of paying attention to the peoples’ attitudes. They usually show their discomfort by avoiding socializing with that particular person. They prefer not having confrontations.
The Spanish tend not to be very direct when it comes to conflict in the workplace. A co-worker who has an issue with you is more likely to discuss the issue with other co-workers and attempt to gain their support. It might be difficult to ascertain when a colleague is upset because he or she is likely to avoid conflict. It may be easier to judge whether or not there is an issue by maintaining a casual relationship with coworkers. Those co-workers who do have an issue will likely be more brisk in their casual conversation.
Nevertheless, the Spanish will usually be grateful if you are direct and raise the issue in a non- conflictive manner. Confronting the person in a way that demonstrates mutual self-respect may often be greeted by a denial that any issue exists, but persistence will usually result in the issue being raised and discussed. It is probably best to confront this person privately and in confidence. Confronting a person publicly would likely be seen as an attack on the person and should probably only be resorted to as a defence against someone who cannot be reasoned with and who is spreading rumours behind your back.
Motivating local colleagues
Spanish people are motivated when managers show their satisfaction through special concessions involving more free time to spend with their friends and family, even more than increase in salary or long term bonus. Examples would be flexible schedules or extra holidays.
Workers appreciate concessions in holidays, meals or trips as rewards at the end of a difficult period of a lot of work. Knowing that in advance makes them work harder and more closely with their co-workers.
Spanish people appreciate when the boss or the company shows a touch of recognition of social situations that are important for that particular person such as weddings, birthdays and so on. It can be money, other presents or more flexibility in the schedule in order to perform something in their private life.
Working conditions are important too, but this involves more the personal relationships with the other co-workers than the physical surroundings themselves.
It is a common practise to give Christmas presents to workers in the form of traditional food, drinks and desserts. The employer usually gives each a number for the Christmas National Lottery, which is already a tradition around Spain, as well as an extra month’s salary. These kinds of extras are the ones that motivate Spanish workers.
Many Spaniards still work in jobs with strict rules concerning working hours, holidays, attire, and behaviour at work. An organization that provides this flexibility and fosters a good working environment where people feel part of a team is likely to go a long way in achieving loyalty and maintaining productivity, perhaps more so than offering higher than average pay.
Offering career development opportunities is another very important aspect of job satisfaction and motivation for employees. Many young Spaniards have invested a great deal of time and money in post secondary education and feel compelled to justify this by reaching higher ranks within an organization at a faster pace. Providing a healthy degree of competition for opportunities to move up within the organization is likely to be a significant motivator for most Spaniards who are working in jobs that require a University degree.
Recommended books, films & foods
The best way to learn about Spanish history and culture is through the cinema and literature.
The best-known authors now in Spain are already classics and any of their books are recommended: To learn about the last 20th Century there’s Camilo Jose Cela, who won the Nobel Prize for La Colmena. To learn about the present society roles read Carmen Posadas, who was the first woman to win the Planeta Prize, the most important literature prize given in Spain. Terenci Moix was several times a winner of the above mention prize for his novels based in Egypt. Antonio Gala is poet and novel writer. Rafael Alberti is another poet. Federico Garcia Lorca’s La Regenta is good for learning about 18th century society; it explains a lot of the present behaviour of a society that still carries a lot of old habits and taboos.
The director of Belle Epoque, Fernando Trueba, was awarded with the Oscar for this film. He is an excellent option in order to learn about history of Spain since most of his work is about historical events in Spain. To learn about the civil war in Spain in a very objective way watch Libertarias with Ana Belen (one of the most popular actresses from the transition of Spain into Democracy), Carmen Maura (the most famous actress in Spain). Women on the verge of a nervous break down from Almodovar is another good one. He is the best option to understand modern Spanish society and stereotypes. Any of his films reflects the present Spanish society. Also there are Tesis or The Others from Joaquin Amenabar who is a young and excellent science fiction director and who represents very well the new generation of artists.
Spanish film provides an excellent context to learn more about Spanish culture. Many of the films by prominent producers such as Pedro Almodovar concentrate on depicting the situations of every day life in Spain. This would be true for such films as Hable con ella, Sexo y Lucia, l’Auberge Espanol, Dias Contados, and La Comunidad. Good books that have particular insights into Spanish culture both past and present include: La Ciudad de los Prodigios and other books by Eduardo Mendoza, For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway.
Spain is very rich in cultural events, food and historical sites. It is impossible to name them all. Each region and city has got different food, cultural habits and events, and of course historical sites. Everybody in the working environment will let you know. Spanish people are very proud of these three things so they will explain them to you. In any case, since Spain is a country that lives off tourism there are tourist information offices in every city and town in Spain. That is best way to find out about what to see, eat or do in one particular place.
Newspapers are an excellent way to get information about a country: La Vanguardia (Independent, from Barcelona), El Pais (socialist, from Madrid), and ABC (monarchist, from Madrid). Most of them come with a cultural magazine that gives information of cultural, sport and social events that are happening in that city. It is an excellent way to find out about what is going on in the present society.
I recommend getting in touch with the soccer situation in Spain. Get to know the league soccer teams since it is European event that in Spain engages in most of the conversations in cafes.
On television, national comedies are very popular. Most of them deal with present social problems through normal situations in police stations, high schools, and a doctor’s life. You can get a lot of information about how the population acts in certain situations. The most popular shows are: Al Salir de Clase, Periodistas, Escuela de Baile o Medico de Guardia.
Possibly the best way to learn about the culture is to sit in a local café and watch the people that go by and how patrons interact. The Spanish are quite open and willing to engage in conversation and will be curious about a foreigner that they see reappearing (which means that you are not a tourist) in the neighbourhood. One of the best cultural venues, but almost entirely reserved for men, is soccer (which must always be referred to as football!). The local football team plays centre stage in the cultural life of most cities in Spain, including Barcelona and Madrid.
Most Spanish cities are quite strong in the arts and will have good theatres that will feature local playwrights. Music, on the other hand, is less prominent as a cultural activity. There are many good Spanish bands that you will hear on the radio and in bars and clubs, but there are few venues to listen to live music. Listening to the radio provides a very good insight into Spanish culture and it is heavily subscribed in most urban centres. It is a good idea to ask locals what radio stations they listen to and determine which one best suits your interests.
Opera Singers world wide known: Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Montserrat Caballe. Spain also has numerous tennis players: Carlos Santana, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Albert Costa, Carlos Moya; the cyclist Miguel Indurain (Five times in a row winner of the Tour de France); singers - Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias and dancers - Joaquin Cortes & Cristina Hoyos (Flamenco). Its most famous soccer teams are Barcelona Futbol Club (Barsa) and Real Madrid; for architecture there’s Gaudi and his cathedral "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona. Famous painters: Velazquez, Goya (The naked Maja and the dresses Maja), Picasso (Guernika), Miro and Salvador Dali (The melting watches) and writers: Camilo Jose Cela (a Nobel prize winner), Antonio Machado (poet), Federico Garcia Lorca (writer), Miguel de Cervantes (writer of El Quijote). Historical heroes: El Cid (liberator of the Catholics from the Moorish Empire), Cristobal Colon (Discovery of the Americas).
Again, the Spanish are very proud of their culture and believe that it is not very well known or appreciated on the world stage. A knowledge of some of Spain’s national heroes will generate a lot of goodwill amongst Spanish people. National heroes include: Raul—One of the world’s best soccer players who plays for Real Madrid, El Rey Juan Carlos—The Spanish King who is a hero for some, especially the older generations, because of his commitment to democracy in the transition from dictatorship to a modern society, Luis Garcia Lorca—Possibly Spain’s favourite writer and poet; Spain’s most famous painters, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso; Miguel Indurain—Retired cyclist and winner of 5 consecutive Tour de France; Juan Carlo Ferrer—A Spanish tennis player who has one several titles recently; and Ricardo Alonso—One of the youngest and best drivers in Formula 1 racing.
Shared historical events with Canada
The historical relationship between Canada and Spain is almost non-existent.
Spanish people only can count one incident with Canada. That is remembered as the Crisis of the Cod when Spanish fishermen were captured by Canadian forces while fishing in Canadian waters. This does not represent a problem and it does not affect social relationships.
Perhaps the only shared event in recent history between Canada and Spain was the capture of a Spanish fishing vessel and crew by Canadian authorities. The Canadian authorities, authorized by Brian Tobin, seized the vessel while in international waters and incarcerated the crew of Spanish fisherman for having unlawfully fished in Canada’s waters. The situation received international coverage and strained relations between the two countries. This event is one that now sparks lively debate during casual conversations and is not an issue that would strain social relations (unless you happen to come across one of the fisherman who spent time in a Canadian jail!).
Unfortunately, the knowledge that Spanish people have of Canada is very little. Spaniards tend to see Canadians as friendly, peaceful people. Most Spanish cannot really tell the difference in culture between USA and Canada. And they think of Canada as a homogeneous Anglo-Saxon country. Most are not even aware that it is a bilingual country.
The Spanish have the image of a country respectful with nature and the environment, rich in natural resources and wildlife. Canada is one of the favourite destinations for honeymooning couples. People are tired of hot destinations that are too similar to our own country and look for a place with natural interest and wild life.
Many Canadians still retain the stereotype that the Spanish are lethargic and take ’siestas’ at mid- day. Although this is still the case in parts of southern Spain, most of Spain is quite industrious and hardworking. Siestas are no longer a part of most Spaniards life, and most work as many hours as their European and North American counterparts. Any stereotypes that place Spain as the developing nation part of the European Union will be met with hostility. The Spanish are proud of the progress that has been made over the last 25 years since the fall of the Franco dictatorship. Foreigners should be aware that Spain now competes at par with most European countries.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Barcelona and moved to a small suburban town on the northern coast 24 km from Barcelona at the age of nine. She is the youngest of three children and studied at the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona. During her studies she worked in a school as a ESL Teacher and took English courses overseas in USA and Australia. After obtaining her degree in Psychology specializing in Clinical Psychology and worked in a hospital for some time. She then worked in marketing, public relations and sales and has recently moved to Canada with her husband.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Tunisia of Canadian parents, the youngest of two children. He grew up living in a number of different countries, including Canada. He completed his final year of secondary school in the south of France and then studied Hotel Management and Management Economics at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario. During his third year of university, your cultural interpreter worked in the area of corporate law for a large grocery chain in Dublin, Ireland, thereafter travelling to Spain and Morocco. Upon completion of his studies, he moved to Barcelona, Spain to work and live for almost two years. There he worked for a large training company in Economic forecasting. He has since returned to Canada to work as an Environmental consultant. He is married to a Spaniard and does not have any children.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.