Adjusting to Castilian Culture

Buenas tardes, readers! I am finally in Madrid, soaking up the summer sun and savoring the local cuisine. This is my third time visiting the city, and I am so happy to be back! Since last week, I have been staying at a family friend’s house snacking on jamón ibérico and having salmorejo, a soup similar to gazpacho, for quick lunches. Last night I prepared merluza, a type of fish, with lemon and garlic as a thank you to my lovely hosts.

Because I am staying close by to the center located in Pozuelo, I can visit La Casita de Inglés in person! However, I have taken multiple precautions. I have been fully vaccinated for about a month now and received a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 48 hours of boarding my flight. While in the center, the other employees and I also keep our masks on at all times.

My prompt for this week’s blog asks me to reflect on the aspects of Spanish culture that have been somewhat difficult adjusting to. One of the first challenges I faced since landing in Spain is their dialect. My mother is from Puerto Rico, so I grew up learning the Latin American version of Spanish. One major difference between Castellano and American Spanish is the “s” sound. Here, the letter “z” is pronounced softly with a “th” sound. For example, consider the sentence “La taza es azul” which means “The cup is blue.” I would pronounce this as “la ta[s]a es a[s]ul.” However, in Castellano, it is pronounced “la ta[th]a es a[th]ul.” This may not seem like a big difference, but it is truly hard to understand others when you add the fact that masks are still mandatory and that most people speak quite quickly.

Vocabulary is also slightly different in Spain. Just to name a few examples, car is coche not caro, juice is zumo not jugo, and beans are judías not habichuelas. I recently mentioned to my coworkers that I took a guagua, a bus, to Gijón to visit my great aunt and uncle, and people looked at me confused for a second before understanding what I meant. Because La Casita de Inglés is a company that only hires bilingual employees, I can communicate in English if there is something I’m having trouble translating. However, I speak in Spanish whenever I can, partly to practice and partly to assimilate into the corporate culture better.

Another aspect of Spanish culture I am still adjusting to is that people often talk over each other. This is something I have more specifically experienced in the workplace. At times, it can get loud in the office with multiple people speaking on the phone and conducting meetings at the same time within the same space. The center in Pozuelo is the only Casita that is an actual house instead of an office space. It is also the first to be established and was once the founder’s home, so we are all basically working in what used to be the living room. In the United States, people tend to place unspoken rules on spaces meant for quiet work. If someone needs to take a call, most of the time they will do their best to speak quietly or step out of the room if possible. In contrast, the other employees do not seem bothered by the volume and simply speak louder if necessary. At first, when I received an important WhatsApp voice message from a colleague, I moved into the hallway to hear it better and record a reply without too much background noise. Now I just do the same as everyone else since it saves time.

Of course, it is not always loud, so I am not overly troubled by this aspect of Spanish culture. Not everyone is in the office at the same time, and it is only during certain hours of the day when people are the busiest.

Overall, La Casita de Inglés is probably one of the friendliest corporate environments I have come across. This is partly because there is a relatively small number of staff members on-site and the company encourages building positive relationships between employees. I often receive positive feedback from my supervisors, and I feel like I have already made some friendships with the staff.

As I write this blog, I am enjoying a beautiful view of the city’s skyline. I can’t help but feel thankful that I have had the opportunity to not only work for a wonderful company, but to travel here and experience part of my internship in person.