Cultural Faux Pas: Brits meet Spaniards

A social faux pas if ever there was one, or as the British would say ´a bit of a cock up there´

Travel is a great way of scrutinizing ones habits, so much so that the more I learn about others mannerisms the more I figure out what’s really British – and what people think, too.

It’s easy to stereotype and often these delicate statements can get you into a lot of trouble now. However,  I rather like the traditional reputations each nationality bestows. Often it isn’t prejudice so much as, well, fact.

Last week I was invited to my first Spanish meal, cooked by a real Spaniard, in a real Spanish home. This was a big deal. I knew from high-end gossip (the ladies loo’s) that there would be a vast amount of alcohol, the meal would be eaten at 10 and there would be noise: laughter, discussion, confusion. Despite these preconceptions my British tendency to leave ‘just enough time, just in case’ meant I arrived 15 minutes before the said party time. The host politely asked me to return in 30 minutes or so, stressing that  ‘it’s different here.’

A social faux pas if ever there was one, or as the British would say ´a bit of a cock-up there.´ So I returned a grand slamming 45 minutes later, now feeling fashionably late, to find I was in-fact simply on time and still one of the first to arrive.

One reputation which has slightly grated on me is this idea that Brits don’t study or know other languages particularly well. We are of course ruthlessly lucky to speak the dominant business language, but perhaps it’s the appearance of arrogance that follows this remark which puts me in defence-mode. We plod along in English in a bubble of ease. I’m not 100% sure how true this reputation is: fact or defence? As I sit here with my Spanish dictionary keen to communicate a simple sentence of ‘tengo hambre’ (I have hunger), conscious not to make my second faux pas of the evening, muttering: ‘tengo hombre’ (I have man).

Have we lost the earthy grip of tradition, or are these embedded reputations ones we don’t want anymore – or indeed want to face up to? Integrating into the Spanish lifestyle has highlighted a few British highs and lows, here are few snapshot pointers…

– Our medical care doesn´t smell of sewage and there is a well organised system (despite our loathing to wait long periods of time)

– We can be quiet reserved: they greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and dance with mighty attitude. No inhibitions here!

– Everything closes at 3 – 5 for a siesta or long lunch. Office hours can also be as short as 9(ish) to 3. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to cope with the 8.30 – 5 shift back in the UK! Perhaps I can persuade the government to change this minor detail.


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