I haven’t had too difficult of a time adapting to the workplace culturally outside of two things. One of the things I found is that Spanish people do tend to be more forward about things in the U.S. that would be considered inappropriate to comment on in the workspace and that has taken some getting used to. For example, the Impact hub is a series of 7 coworking spaces throughout Madrid so there are always a lot of different people working in each hub any day of the week. A lot of people that run their own small businesses as well as companies with up to 15 employees rent a desk at any of the hubs. The hub that I work most days at is Alameda and there is a large communal kitchen available to everyone as well as once a week social events in the patio which is the open seating area in the building. By going to these events, I have been able to network with a few people and have made some friends around the office. Recently, I went on a weekend trip and ended up getting a very mild sunburn. When I was talking with someone in the kitchen about my weekend and that I got a little sunburn she said, “well of course you have a skin tone so pale it’s almost clear”. Later in the week another one of the people that I just recently started talking to more said that I looked so tired that I “looked like I was dead” and I was a little taken aback by that and didn’t really know how to respond. In the U.S. normally it is not really appropriate in an office setting to comment on a coworker’s appearance when you don’t know them that well, but apparently it is more common to be direct here and that has taken a little adjustment from me to not be insulted when someone comments something like that.
Something else that I have been struggling to adjust to is understanding when someone actually wants me to help with something or if they are just saying that it’s fine just to be polite and then will be slightly annoyed with you if you didn’t help. I know that this exists in the U.S. as well, but for me it seems to be more intense in Spain. Often in smaller team meetings, everyone will go over the projects that they are working on and the things that they still have to do before they can finish. During these meetings, I’ll often try to volunteer to help if it’s something that I can do and have helped with before to try to get more experience. On one occasion in particular, a woman that I have not worked with closely before made a comment that she has so much to do and that she was going to have to work all day to catch up. I offered to help since I had time to. She responded by saying oh no that’s alright and I thought that meant that she didn’t want my help. The next time that I saw her she commented that her project would be so much easier if she had a native English speaker to help her which I was confused about since I did offer my help. It’s difficult to find the balance of making yourself as helpful as possible without being pushy and constantly asking people if they are sure.
One thing that took the first two weeks for me to understand was that for my team, it is common to not work a full 8 hours a day and people don’t really seem to care if you aren’t here from 9-5. I think that part of this might just be the company that I am working with because they have a flexible model of work where you are allowed to work any hours that you want, remotely or in whatever hub is most convenient for you, but I see this with the other companies that rent office space here as well. Most people arrive around 10 and then at 11 they have a coffee break with the team that lasts for about 30 minutes and then another one an hour before lunch. Lunch is normally 1-1:30 hours and then everyone gets another coffee of tea after. By the time everyone is officially done with lunch and coffee it’s normally 4 and a lot of people will leave at 4:30. For me, it was difficult to understand that they didn’t really expect me to be working all day or wouldn’t consider me less productive for taking a few 30-minute breaks throughout the day and a longer lunch.
The person who has been acting as my supervisor on the consulting team said to me “you are really concerned with hours and what time you are here”. Coming in with the American sense of what productivity is in the workplace made me appear to my team as being really uptight and almost like a workaholic. People are late for meetings all the time, and nobody ever seems to be upset about it or say anything. Where I normally try to be 5 minutes early, it isn’t uncommon that if a meeting is scheduled to start at 3, and I am the only one in the room and people don’t start to show up for 5-10 minutes. They just don’t seem to be as concerned with being exactly on time, but it is more acceptable to be a little late for things.