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El Cafe: Working in Spain

What's it like to work in Spain? I was curious to the answer of that very question when I took the position of AmeriSpan's European office director in Madrid, 2.5 years ago. I had been to Spain before, but only to Barcelona (FANTASTIC city by the way) and the beaches for holidays, but never to Madrid, where I was supposed to settle in and be a professional for 2 years. The answer to the question: What's it like to work in Spain? was my main goal ...

I really did need about 2 years to come to any sort of conclusion because I was getting very conflicting impressions of the country and its business climate. In the end, I just gave up and decided that it feels like you are working in 2 different worlds!

For the most part, Spain feels like much of the rest of Europe: efficient, productive, goal-oriented and organized. The typical stereotype of the lazy Spaniard who works a couple of hours in the morning, takes a long lunch and nap, and then drags him or herself back to work in the late afternoon, doing nothing at all for the remainder of the day, does not apply here. I wouldn't have minded one single bit to live that very attractive lifestyle. Alas! That Spain is gone. It is now only a distant memory and part of the colorful history of this wonderful country.

On the other hand, sometimes I really feel like Europe ends at the Pyrenees just north of the Spanish border. It is very easy to get accustomed to things seeming "normal" and then when you least expect it, Spanish reality hits you. Actually, not that unexpected, because this theory mostly applies to large former government bodies and any other type of bureaucracy that has not quite caught on to the "modern" style of doing things. A perfect example: You can get a cell phone contract and your phone in 1 day. Not a problem. Then again, to get your LAND line, you have to go through formerly governmental (and effectively monopolist) Telefonica. Well, THAT takes about 3 months of calling, filling out paperwork, waiting, and more calling.

Maybe working in Spain is best defined by its quirkiness. The Spaniards really have found ways to combine the modern business culture with bits and pieces of the more relaxed way of doing things from before. This mix is what makes working in Spain unique and oh-so-attractive. Unfortunately, the "modern ways of business" have not yet reached every aspect of Spanish commerce. See my example above.

In my mind, one of the best examples of that perfect combination is "El Cafe" yes, "The Coffee." "El Cafe” is the ritual morning coffee that you drink with your co-workers in a nearby Cafe. Oh yes! You go out of your office building, walk a couple of yards to a Cerveceria (bar), drink a quick coffee and after 10 minutes or so, you go back to work. You're not away from your desk more than 15 min and it's so refreshing! Sure you may have missed a phone call while you were away but returning that call with a simple "I just went down for a coffee" is a perfectly acceptable excuse for not having been at your desk.

If you are as intrigued as I was and want to experience this sweetly confusing world of modern cosmopolitan life combined with charming laid back traditional culture, you can! But before you commit yourself to becoming a Spanish resident, you can try out being a "guiri" (a foreigner in Spain) first. Through AmeriSpan we can set you up to intern in Spain for as short as 4 weeks or as long as 1 year. To get your Spanish up to par, we combine our programs with a few weeks of an immersion course to get adjusted and be fully prepared to start your working life in this very vibrant, uniquely quirky and cultural country.


By: Anne-Marie Dingemans-AmeriSpan


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