Cultural Variance

I can’t believe we are 4 weeks in, it’s going by so fast! I feel like after these past few weeks, I am very comfortable in Madrid. I no longer need Google Maps to figure out where I’m going (unless I’m going somewhere totally new, but to be fair, I still use Google Maps in Pittsburgh), and I’ve been feeling less and less like a tourist. I have been filling my free mornings with reading in the park, conversations with my host mom, and general exploring. With the weather getting warmer, I’ve been sitting out on my host family’s balcony to read or drink my coffee in the morning, which has been really nice.  

Culturally, I have not been having too much difficulty, in and out of the workplace. It took a little getting used to going to cafes and just sitting down, and not immediately ordering at the counter, but this was something that was easily fixed. One of my favorite cultural differences (that was admittedly, a bit jarring when I first experienced it) is staring culture. In the United States, staring is considered rude and unseemly. If an individual is walking down the street or sitting on public transportation, they will keep their head down and only give shooting glances to the other people around them. In Spain, people will look without hesitation. While riding public transportation, you will get eyed up and down by all the other passengers. For the first week or so, I considered this judgemental and felt self-conscious. Now, after I have repeatedly experienced this, I understand that it is not considered rude to take in a stranger’s outfit or observe other individuals on public transport. This has provided me with a fun, new activity during my daily hour-long commute. If I get bored with my book or my sudoku game, I will end up scanning the train car and doing some light people-watching until I reach my station. I KNOW this sounds creepy and rude, but I have been reassured by many a Spaniard that it is not here.  

At work, there have not been many differences that have been noticeable culturally. I think the vast majority of the changes I have experienced have been due to the field I am working in, not the country where I am working. I am still expected to arrive on time and work diligently until it is time to leave. I have not had many real tasks to complete, which is something I always had with my jobs in the US, but again, I believe that this is due to the nature of my internship. I was told that Spaniards will dig deep into your personal life during breaks or over lunch, but as I arrive after lunch and don’t have time for a break, I have not been able to sit down with my coworkers for a long period of time to get to know one another. The few times that we have been able to take a break at the same time (when a session gets canceled and we finish other tasks), we have talked a bit about our personal lives, but never much further than I get with coworkers at home. We talk about my future goals, their kids, and sometimes they will give me advice on my career. I think the fact that there is a 20ish year age gap between us hinders our ability to become close and we’ve taken on a more mentor/mentee relationship.  

Another work difference I have seen is with privacy laws within healthcare. I am very used to HIPAA laws in the states and found it surprising that I was given access to personal information for our clients without any training or orientation. This, I think, also comes with working at a private organization where my supervisor is able to make calls on who gets to see certain information and who doesn’t. I have obviously been maintaining this privacy when I tell my friends stories from work, leaving out names and detailed descriptions, even though I was never expressly told to do so. At times at my internship, I think about how my presence would be received in the US, and I think some families would be less forgiving of my language ability and lack of experience.  

Outside of these things, I think Spanish culture has been relatively easy to assimilate to! I know I have a unique situation that has been less stereotypically Spanish which has definitely made it easier for me to fall into a routine.  

(featured image from my trip to Toledo last weekend!)

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