Excerpted from the Spain Career Guide
Spanish culture and society are a reflection of Spain’s unique position at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean, and the many peoples who have occupied Spain throughout its history. Europe's third-largest country, Spain has a turbulent past marked by imperialism, civil war and fascism. Since the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, the country has experienced rapid and remarkable cultural, political and social change. Spain is a member of the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Trade Organisation.
Life in Spain may be best characterized by its unhurried pace. Although often delayed, things eventually get done. Foreign visitors should not get too upset about this and try rather to ‘go with the flow.’ Everything happens later in Spain, from getting to work to eating meals to falling asleep at night. Spanish workers arrive in the office around 9 am. Many of them ease into work gradually, beginning with coffee, the newspaper and idle gossip with other co-workers. Actual work often does not begin until 9:30 or 10 am. It is not uncommon to keep working until 10 pm.
Spaniards may not be early birds, but they compensate by being night owls. Offices do not generally close until 8 pm. If the workload is heavy, business people will stay until it is done, even as the clock nears midnight.
Spaniards are very proud of their history and culture, and it is appreciated if a foreign visitor shows interest in these. They also appreciate a good sense of humor, which is often used at the outset of important discussions in order to avoid appearing too serious. Talking politics is also a very Spanish thing to do, and it often will lead to agitated discussions.
If You Want to Act Like a Local...
- The North American symbol for 'OK,' making a circle with the thumb and index finger, is considered to be a vulgar gesture in Spain.
- To beckon someone, turn down the palm and wave with fingers or the whole hand.
- Dining manners are Continental, with knife in the right hand and fork in the left; one should avoid switching the fork to the dominant hand. To indicate that one has finished dining, the knife and fork should be placed side by side on the plate. Crossed or separated utensils indicate that one has not finished dining.
There are three types of business cultures in Spain. The first is characterized by modern industries that receive significant foreign investment and embrace innovative management techniques. The second is typified by traditional small family businesses, which make up the majority of the GDP. Finally, there are the major banks, which inhabit a middle ground between the other two cultures.
The business hierarchy is typically pyramid style with many management layers, starting at the top with the president and going down to the bottom to the operations staff. There is a definite divide between managers and subordinates. Bosses provide guidance and information, and then they make decisions. Subordinates provide detailed information and follow the decisions made by their superiors. If problems arise, the subordinates try to deal with them in such a way as to not bother the manager.
Women in the Workplace
Female workers in Spain have not historically held management roles. In the traditional Spanish workplace, women were relegated to lower-level management and administrative support positions. This is changing quickly as Spain faces a shortage of skilled workers and more educated women are joining the workforce. Although they still have difficulty reaching senior management positions, there are more and more executive women even within the government. Women are becoming almost commonplace as middle managers.
Spaniards tend to trust oral promises over written documentation. Most still prefer to pick up the phone and call a business contact than to send an email. In fact, when sending written correspondence, it is generally a good idea to follow up with a phone call or a personal visit.
This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete Spain Guide.