Cultural Norms and Differences

            I’ve definitely noticed a difference in communication style. Luckily, I haven’t had any major miscommunications because of it, but I did have one somewhat funny miscommunication. It was the end of the day, and I was getting ready to leave work when my boss asked me about how I get home and what metro line I take. She then started lamenting about how hot it is outside and how horrible it must be to walk to the station in this weather. I shrugged and responded by reassuring it that it isn’t as bad as it seems and that it’s only about a 10-to-15-minute walk. At this point we’re walking out the building and I start walking towards the station when she calls out to me. She had been trying to offer me a ride to the train station, which is why she asked which line I take and what station I walk to. I responded with an “oh!” when she told me and then asked me directly, as this completely went over my head. I assumed she was just a little curious and that it was just normal coworker small talk. I hadn’t thought anything of it. She laughed a bit at my surprised response, as for her it was quite obvious. Because I’m used to a low-context environment, and also the cultural norms of the U.S., I totally missed the subtle clues and gestured that were her indicating that she could give me a ride to the train station, such as: her walking out the door at the same time as me, her asking about the station, talking about how horrible it must be to walk to the station, mentioning that she drives past the same station on her way home, and also pointing out that her car is the red one. Once again, looking back I totally understand now, but in the moment, I never would have put two and two together. There’s also the cultural norm in the U.S. to never assume. You must wait until someone explicitly says so, otherwise it’s rude. You also cannot ask for something like that, once again, because it’s rude. If I am at someone’s house and want a glass of water, even if I know where the glasses are, I still must ask. For example, at work during our coffee break, one of my coworkers brought some bread, meat, cheese, and dips. It was obvious that it was meant to be shared with everyone, however, I was still hesitant to take some because no one explicitly told me that the food is for everyone. I’ve also noticed that there are a lot of kind, assumed gestures. During lunch, my coworkers will grab plates, glasses, silverware, and napkins for each other, and this is commonplace. They don’t even think twice about it, or say thank you, because it’s such a norm. I’ve noticed a lot of small, kind gestures such as that throughout Spain. On the metro, I see people constantly offering their seats for someone who is older, has children, is disabled, etc. This is supposed to happen in the U.S., and does somewhat, however not to the extent it occurs here. It also happens automatically; the person stands up almost immediately and just gestures to the seat and the person says thank you and then sits. I’ve seen many times on the buses in Pittsburgh when someone should probably have a seat, but there are none and no one wants to give theirs up. I also think this is a bit of an impact caused by an individualist versus community focused society. In the U.S., the individual is always the emphasis. Spain still leans more individualistic, however, not to the extent of the U.S., so moments of compassion and sacrificing the self for the whole are not as shocking. From what I’ve noticed, I feel like the U.S. is more out-front nice and under the surface mean, while Spain is the opposite. The people here look like/feel like they are a bit mean, however, when you start talking to them you realize they are nice and are helpful. In the U.S., the appearance of being nice is more important than actually being nice and helpful. People are quick to engage in small talk and be friendly to each other, but when someone actually needs help, they are a lot less likely to do something. It’s almost like a fake nice. This isn’t always the case, of course, and I’ve definitely had some experiences that contradict what I just said, but as a whole, this is what I’ve noticed.

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