Similarities and Differences in Communication

It’s crazy to think that I only have two weeks left in this city! As the end of this experience draws nearer and nearer, I have begun to find myself appreciating the little things about being in Madrid every day. I have been taking more pictures of the mundane things I see at the coffee shops I usually haunt, on my walk to work, and even in my bedroom. I have been keeping a daily journal for the entire time that I have been here, and lately I have found that I am focusing on the details when I write about my day, striving to remember every salient moment and treasure every experience I have here, no matter how small.

I have spoken at length in previous blog posts regarding the differences in style of work between the United States and Madrid. I have described the lack of adherence to a strict schedule, and all the difficulties which this change has brought me. Yet while in this regard, I have noticed quite a big difference between the workforce here versus in the United States, I have not noticed the same cultural gap in terms of communication differences and preferences. In all of our pre-trip orientations, it was stressed to us that the United States is considered a low context culture, whereas Spain is considered a high context culture. As a result of this, I came to Madrid with an expectation that it would be difficult for me to understand the subtext behind what was being said, and that it was only a matter of time before I had a social blunder.

This has not been my experience, especially at work. My guess as for why this is the case is that I work at a hospital, where the majority of conversation between coworkers has to be straightforward in order to protect the best interests of the patients. If a patient had a bad night, the night nurse must be direct and clear in communicating what the issue was and how the symptoms manifested to the psychiatrist, so that there is no confusion as to how best the psychiatrist should move forward with treating that patient the following morning. Perhaps this cultural difference in communication style is more apparent in other fields, but in the medical field, I have not experienced any difference in communication that has led to me misunderstanding a situation.

In social settings, I have experienced this communication discrepancy a little bit. As I have previously written, I signed up for classes at a local martial arts gym in order to meet people and get the very most I could out of my time here. Last Friday, I went out for dinner with about fifteen of the adults at the gym after our class. There, in a more relaxed, social setting, the differences in communication were a little more apparent. However, I did not feel that the communication differences were as a result of high context versus low context cultures. Instead of Spanish conversation having more subtext, as I was told it would have, I found that my Spanish companions were much more blunt in their questions and conversations than would be typical for Americans. For example, at one point, upon finding out that I was from the United States, one of my new friends said to me:

“I don’t know if this is a difficult question for you to answer, but how did you feel on January 6, 2021? What was that like for you?”

I was surprised to receive such a personal (as well as political) question from someone who I don’t know that well. I was not offended, and was happy to answer and to educate people on some of the intricacies of the modern day American political landscape, but I was definitely taken aback that I had been asked that question in the first place. I feel that this experience was demonstrative of the largest difference in communication style that I have experienced here in Madrid so far. The Spaniards are blunt, and are not shy to bring up topics such as religion and politics, which, in the United States, are considered taboo for conversations between acquaintances. Personally, I find this style of communication refreshing. Just as my group of new friends asked me about American politics, I was able to return the favor, so to speak, and ask them about some of the current events in Spanish politics. I enjoyed the straightforwardness of the conversation, and I found it led me to connect with the group more quickly and deeply than I would have expected to in the United States.

A quick note: the featured picture is the the Holy Chalice, an important Christian relic, which is housed in a beautiful cathedral in Valencia (where I visited this past weekend). During this excursion, I learned that the Holy Grail is, in fact, a real historical and religious symbol of much importance, and not something that was invented for the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail!

Leave a Reply