Cultural Differences Between the United States and Spain

Authored by:
Elizabeth N.

Elizabeth N.

Spain’s culture isn’t drastically different from the United States, so you may not experience culture shock on arrival.  But you will certainly notice some differences.  It took me a long time to get used to seeing babies and children in bars.  Or getting used to printing labels when I buy produce.  Overall, most of the biggest cultural differences I notice are at the businesses I teach at.

Spanish people move up the corporate ladder in different ways

It varies in the United States as well, but at least from my experience, people in the States try to move up the corporate ladder quickly.  If that means taking a higher position at another company then they leave their current position.  People work hard and take training courses and classes to improve their professional skills to move up quickly.

 In contrast, many of my Spanish students seem calm about climbing the ladder slowly.  It’s not that they don’t work hard, but they don’t see the point in sacrificing their precious free time in order to improve professional skills.  They will improve their skills as they work instead.  I have found that it’s more common for young people to stay in positions for as long as five years before they progress, this would seem a little slow to an American.

Spanish people stick to routine more

After a while, you get tired of asking the question “how was your weekend?” to your students because you will find you basically get the same answer every time.  “Nothing special.”  “I had dinner with my family.”  “I rested in the park.”  “I visited my parents in their village.”

While this isn’t a conversation starter, I don’t find the Spanish routine a bad thing, in fact I find it refreshing.  Back in the States, it’s very common to try to keep yourself busy or to try something new every weekend.  In contrast, taking a nap in the park instead seems very relaxing.

People don’t negotiate for salaries here

In the States, it’s very common when you take a job to negotiate your salary.  This could be based on your previous salary or experience.  There are several lessons on the platform that deal with negotiation, when you teach these lessons you will find the experience here is completely different.  People never negotiate salary.  There is an expected salary for each position that will increase the longer you work here.  Again, Spanish people don’t see a need to rush up the corporate ladder, many are content waiting for their salary to increase instead of asking for a high one right away.


In the United States, showing up to a meeting 5-15 minutes early is considered normal and acceptable.  You will not find this here.  Commonly, my students will be 2-3 minutes late, some will come in even later.  I have one class where most of the students come in 15-20 minutes late.  This can be frustrating, so focus on the students who show up earlier and have them catch up the students who come in later.  If your students take longer than half the class to show up, then the class is canceled.

This is the same for things like utilities and maintenance as well.  Unless there is an emergency in your apartment, it is likely maintenance will show up a day after they said they would.  This can be annoying, so try to just mentally prep yourself for things to run slower here.  I should note, this does not apply to transportation.  If you show up late to the speed train, they will leave without you.

Spanish people are closer to their families

If you chose to live with Spanish roommates, don’t be surprised if the disappear every weekend to visit their families. It’s not that Americans aren’t close with our families, but we value our independence.  You may find that some of your younger students still live with their parents, or maybe that some of your older students have their parents living with them.  It’s also very uncommon for people to move far away from their families.  If your students live away from their family, it probably means because they had to come to Madrid to work.   Any time they are not working is spent with their families.  This can also make it seem like it is difficult to make friends with Spanish people and to a degree it is.  You have to catch them at the time they are not working or with their families, which is not often.

As I mentioned, you won’t notice striking differences between Spain and the United States.  The differences are more subtle, especially in the corporate setting.  That is the advantage of the Teach in Spain Professional program: you become familiar with a different set of business practices.  If your future goals involve international business, this program will give you insight into how businesses in other countries function.

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