The UK is a popular choice for Spanish speakers wanting to learn English in a practical setting. In the same vein, Spain is one of the top holiday destinations for Brits, and one of the top countries Brits choose for retirement. One of the main aspects of cultural identity is language, and when living in a different country, learning the language is essential. Other cultural aspects have to be considered as well though, or it could lead to misunderstanding.
Things were quite confusing when I first moved to UK, not only because I had to learn the local lingo (not the Queen’s English), but also because there are cultural differences in the way people speak. Spanish people are quite direct – this doesn’t mean we are rude! The use of modal verbs is quite different in comparison to the English language. For example, if a Spanish person wants to ask for something, they would say “give me that”, “pass me that”, “take that”; we wouldn’t use “please” or “could you please”, like an English speaker would. In fact, if a Spanish person started speaking like this to another Spanish speaker, they might get some funny looks – something that I’ve experienced first-hand when I go back home!
Personal space is another important aspect that has to be considered, as it is quite different between cultures.
Spanish people always greet people with two kisses, however in the UK people keep their distance, and for people you’ve just met, shaking hands is expected, especially in a business setting. I am sure other Spanish people have found themselves in a similarly awkward situation when meeting someone, and not knowing what to do for the first time, thinking “Do I shake hands? Give them one kiss? Two kisses?”
“Pardon” is a word that sounds really similar to the Spanish word “perdón”, but the meaning is quite different.
“Pardon” is used in English when you can’t understand what a speaker is trying to say, however in Spanish, if you are talking to someone and the other person says “perdón”, it means the message you are getting is negative or difficult to believe. I’ll always remember when one of my friends came to the UK for the first time, and he got really offended because a native English speaker was trying to make him repeat the same sentence saying “pardon” a few times. Even when the intonation was different, he thought this person could not believe what he was saying, but it was just a simple statement. On the other hand, in Spanish we would just use “what?” or “how?” This way of talking is not considered to be polite in English.
These are just a few examples of cultural differences – there are plenty more!
Everyone knows about the Spanish “siesta”, or that Spanish people usually eat lunch and dinner later than the Brits do, and even Christmas is quite different. In Spain, Christmas day is not the main event, it’s all about Christmas Eve. Gift-giving happens in January, when we celebrate Epiphany.
Whilst there are many cultural differences, there are also plenty of similarities. It is fascinating and rewarding to spend time in a different country, and be able to take part in a different culture. I think those who are exposed to other countries and cultures become more tolerant and understanding. As part of my day-to-day role, I work with large businesses looking to take their brand global, and communicate with their customers, employees and stakeholders around the world.
Understanding their differences only helps with this role further.