Californian English assistant in Madrid

#1 My name is Dan

Hi, my name is Dan and I’m the new English assistant at your school for this year. Having lived in Madrid for the last two years, I’ve spent enough time to notice cultural differences between Spain and the United States. While people may disagree with my observations, this is written just from my own viewpoint as an English assistant living in Madrid. Over the next few weeks, I will continue this article with other areas where I have noticed cultural differences, focusing on one per week. This week, I will be focusing on the work culture.
The work culture in the United States and Spain couldn’t be more different. The United States is a nation of workaholics. People take pride in working hard, often for very long hours. There are no legal guarantees in place for vacation days, and many employees are known to give up their vacation days to prove their dedication to their work.

Spain, however, takes a much different approach. While people in Spain do work hard, there is a stronger understanding of what work-life balance means. In Spain, people understand that work is only one part of their lives. While it may be nice to take pride in your job, Spaniards deeply value their time off, often spending it on slow, relaxing lunches and being with friends and family in the evenings and on the weekends.

#2 Cultural differences between Spain and the US
Hi everyone. I would like to follow up on what I wrote last week about cultural differences I have noticed between Spain and the US. In light of the fact that I had to go to the Aluche immigration office to process paperwork this week, I will be discussing the differences in how bureaucracy works in Spain and the United States.
This is simply my own experience, of course, but the differences in dealing with government offices and paperwork is significantly more difficult in Spain. Customer service lines to call government offices are rare here, and making appointments for things like renewing immigration paperwork are tedious and time-consuming. This is not to say that bureaucracy in the US is a very easy, however, but it is much easier to deal with.
For example, when I was having trouble requesting my FBI background check, I was able to call the FBI Customer Service line and immediately speak to a representative who sent me a new login link in real time, and they could monitor whether or not I was able to access the system. In contrast, simply getting an appointment here in Madrid to renew my TIE is practically a full-time job. I have to check every day for appointments, and it is quite common for the appointment system to not function properly.
Maybe this is simply because I am an immigrant in Spain, but in general I have found dealing with government paperwork and offices to be more straightforward and less frustrating in the United States than in Spain. 

#3 Differences between the US and Spain

For the third part of my series on cultural differences between the US and Spain, I wanted to focus on “small talk.” In the United States, we have a culture of doing what’s called “small talk,” which is where acquaintances or even complete strangers engage in casual conversation about various lighthearted topics, such as the weather or how one is feeling at that particular moment.
While Americans are often quite friendly and will talk to complete strangers, there isn’t much meaning to these conversations and nothing much is thought of them. When one asks, “How are you” or “ Hey what’s up”, the socially acceptable answer is “I’m fine, thanks” or “Not much”. Weirdly enough, it’s considered strange to actually talk about how you are doing. 
On the other hand, while people in Spain are generally friendly and polite, I don’t notice complete strangers engaging in small talk very often here, and generally I find that when someone asks you how you’re doing it’s a more genuine question. This is not to cast judgement on either social norm, but it is a difference that becomes obvious to me whenever I go back to the United States and am surprised by strangers asking me questions about myself.

#4 False Friends

During the “Who Are We” activity I have done this week, a common false friend, or false cognate, that I have corrected is the Spanish word “pacífico”. In English, the word “Pacific” refers to an ocean, and the correct English word would be “peaceful”.
In English class, you’re taught to beware of words that sound similar in both languages, but have very different meanings, also known as “false friends” or “false cognates”. While this may be a struggle for you in class, it might be amusing to know that I struggle with the same issue when speaking Spanish.
For example, when I went to see the dermatologist last year, I was trying to ask the receptionist about my insurance policy. As a native English speaker, my mind automatically went to the word “policía” instead of “póliza”. In other words, while trying to ask what was wrong with my insurance policy, I ended up asking what was wrong with the insurance police.
My goal with this article is to make you feel more confident in practicing your English. Even though you might mix up some words, you can feel comforted knowing that, at the very least, you didn’t ask a receptionist about the insurance police.