Term Paper: Cultural Differences With Spain

Cultural Differences With Spain

In June 2001, the United States and Spain signed a declaration celebrating their “traditional relations.” The declaration pledged, among others, to strengthen the economic and financial cooperation between Spain and the United States.

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Since then, more businesses based in the United States have opened offices in various locations in Spain. Manufacturing giant SC Johnson & Son Inc. And New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough both have offices in Madrid. SDRC, a in Ohio, has offices in Madrid (Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce).

More and more, the United States is recognizing Spain’s growing financial and economic role in Europe and Latin America.

Despite a shared history and increased economic cooperation, the United States and Spain have distinct cultures and customs. An understanding of these cultural boundaries can be invaluable to American companies doing business in Spain. This paper looks at the key cultural differences and their ramifications for companies doing business in Spain.

Unlike the United States, Spain defines itself as a deeply Catholic country. More than 90% of the population identifies itself as Catholic. As a result, the Catholic Church enjoys tremendous popularity among the public and is able to exercise strong political pressure on the government (CIA World Factbook).

The Bureau of Democracy Division of the U.S. Department of State notes the continued presence of racism and xenophobia, manifested in discrimination and violence against minorities. A survey conducted in 2000 found that Spaniards identified closely with people from Western Europe and Latin America but were far less accepting of immigrants from Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa (Bureau of Democracy).

In 2000, the Council of Europe observed a resurgence of ultranationalism that is manifested in greater harassment and intolerance towards the Roma, Africans and Arabs. There were also several reports of attacks against immigrants, which were attributed to rightwing youth groups (Country Report on Spain).

As in the United States, there are laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace in Spain. However, though almost 400 sexual harassment complaints were filed with the police, very few were brought to trial. The Bureau of Democracy also observes that although specifically prohibited by law, “discrimination in the workplace and in hiring practices persisted” (Country Report on Spain). Another study of 100 labor union contracts showed that almost half failed to . Twenty percent of the contracts used gender-specific job titles and women’s salaries were an average 30% less than their male counterparts (Country Report on Spain).

Spain’s Constitution mandates fair access to employment, public facilities and transportation for people with disabilities. The Spanish government subsidizes companies that employ people with physical or mental disabilities. However, the national law is only as a guide for regional laws. Assistance and access vary from region to region and, in many areas, have not improved at all (Country Report on Spain).

Spain is a signatory to several environmental agreements that the United States has yet to sign, including the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. However, Spain also has numerous environmental problems of its own, such as growing air pollution, deforestation and the pollution of the Mediterranean Sea from raw sewage and effluents produced by offshore oil and gas rigs (CIA Factbook).

Spain has a , with a high reliance on private business.

The influx of United States businesses and investments is generally accepted, particularly because of its (Country Report on Spain). Many American analysts also see trade with Spain as a key route towards a greater business presence in Latin America.

As with any country, an understanding of these key cultural differences will help American businesses in their dealings with Spanish businesses and the government. First, Americans need to recognize the importance of Catholicism in the lives of Spaniards. There are more Catholic holidays in Spain than in the United States and during those days, the country effectively shuts down.

Americans may also be surprised at the overtness of practices which would be considered discriminatory in the United States. For example, it is not uncommon for Spanish businesses to ask questions about marital status during interviews. Many firms also use gender-specific job titles such as “secretaria” to denote a female secretary, an important distinction considering how, in the food manufacturing industry, for example, a secretaria get paid an average of 30% less than a secretario (Country Report on Spain). In addition, physically challenged Americans may be surprised at the lack of access in many public places and transportation, despite laws mandating their creation. In addition, African-Americans and other darker-skinned minorities may encounter discriminatory practices in daily life.

To deal with such practices, people already doing business in Spain suggest that foreigners recognize the more personal way Spaniards do business. Asking about home, family and interests outside work is common and the best way to deal with uncomfortable questions is to be “overpolite” (Levitt).

In conclusion, American business entrepreneurs need to take into account key cultural differences between their home country and Spain. The importance of religion, for example, means that Sundays and holidays will often take precedence over any business activity. In addition, activities which would be considered forms of discrimination back here, such as asking about marital status, are tolerated as part of establishing business relations.

Works Cited

Central Intelligence Agency (January 1, 2002). The World Factbook 2002 – Spain. Retrieved January 23, 2003 at http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/sp.html

Levitt, Joshua (September 2002). “Spain: Getting Through Customs.” Director.

Spanish-U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2002). U.S. Companies in Spain. Retrieved January 23, 2003 at http://www.spainuscc.org/eng/publications/index.html

U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (March 2002). Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001: Spain. Retrieved January 23, 2003 at http://www.usis.usemb.se/human/2001/europe/spain.html

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