Sunday, 8 January 2012

Speaking loudly

In general, Spaniards speak louder than English people. Now, how do the two different cultures view this?

In England, different social classes use different tones of voice. Lower classes speak louder. Therefore, speaking in a lower tone of voice is associated with a higher status in society and vice-versa. Speaking loudly is also considered rude.

In Spain, speaking loudly is common. It is not rude, demeaning, nor embarrassing. There are no social class connotations. If anything, it can feel quite frustrating to have a conversation with someone who is not speaking loudly enough to follow what they are saying.

Perhaps English people who speak low consider that the listener should make less noise to hear what they are saying. Spanish people consider that the speaker should use a louder tone to accommodate to the circumstances.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Kissing children on the lips

In England it is acceptable to kiss children other than your own on the lips. In Spain it is not.

In England it is not a rare occurrence to see parents kissing their children on the lips, and also grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and even people outside the family.

In Spain almost everybody greets with two kisses, one on each cheek. Kissing on the lips is generally reserved for romantic relationships. Thus, kissing children on the lips is often frowned upon, particularly when they are not your own children, as it is understood that some parents kiss their children on the lips.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Should children only be corrected by their own parents?

There are cultural differences that are obvious. Those are quickly noticed and are easily understood. The problem comes when the differences are not noticed and it is assumed that others should behave in a way in which we would expect them to behave or, should they not, it may be assumed that they are being rude.

Let us imagine a party. There are family and friends gathered together enjoying themselves. The children are playing around and one child does something naughty. The parent is at the other side of the room. There are other adults closer to the child. What should be done? Would the same thing happen in England and in Spain?

I have found that my English family and my Spanish family have a very different approach to dealing with this type of situation. The adults in my English family would not hesitate disciplining the child, in spite of not being the parent, and the parent being present in the room. The child needs disciplining and it does not matter who does it. It is everybody's responsibility to keep the children under control and to ensure that they are well behaved.

My Spanish family would inform the parent of the situation and allow the parent to decide the course of action. My Spanish family considers that only parents have the authority to discipline their children. Overstepping this authority is highly offensive, as it implies the belief that the parent is not good enough to do their job.

As you can imagine, I have seen an English adult offending a Spanish parent and being completely surprised by the Spanish parent's reaction. I have also personally experienced uneasiness when my English family corrected my child in my presence. I was not aware that they had been brought up differently to me. I simply assumed that they had more dominant personalities, or were consciously overstepping my authority because they thought I was not doing a good job. It took years, and members of both sides of my family, for me to put these facts together and understand the cultural differences.

I cannot generalise, as I have not studied this in depth. However, I suppose that other English people would correct a child when necessary regardless of whether the child's parent is present or not, and would not consider their action to be offensive to the parent. They would just feel they are being helpful by dealing with something that needs dealing with. I also imagine that other Spaniards would leave it to the parents, unless they had a very dominant personality or were being offensive.

Monday, 28 November 2011


Languages provide different resources to show respect towards the listener. Both Spaniards and English people are surprised at the much greater use of the words 'thank you' and 'please' in English compared to Spanish.

In Spanish we tend to use other linguistic resources to show respect. One resource that we have in Spanish that does not exist in English is the existence of two forms for the 2nd person - a formal one (usted/ustedes) and an informal one (tĂș/vosotros).

When Spaniards speak in English, particularly when they are not yet fluent in the language, they tend to forget to use 'please' and 'thank you' the way that English people do. Thus, they appear to be impolite.

Similarly, when English people speak in Spanish they tend to use 'please' and 'thank you' as often as in English, surprising Spaniards by their formality. This formality seems distancing to Spaniards and they sometimes even find it offensive that the English person seems to be close to them in some regards, but still has to express gratitude formally in some petty matters.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Approach to interrupting in the UK versus Spain

Communicating really involves much more than being able to speak a language. I have come to learn that conversations do not flow in England the way that they do in Spain.

To an English person it must be very surprising that in Spain we constantly interrupt each other in conversation. We regularly try to finish each other's sentences, to show that we are on the same wavelength. When we interrupt in the way that is expected in conversation, this is done smoothly, using unconscious cues that allow both the speaker and the listener to know whose turn it is to speak. Of course, Spaniards also have the ability to be rude and interrupt the speaker showing disregard for what they are saying, but that is a different matter.

In England, it is expected that the speaker will have an uninterrupted chance to say what they have to say. Meanwhile, the listener patiently listens and waits for the speaker to finish before taking their own turn to speak. Thus, interrupting a speaker does not tell the speaker that you understand what they are saying. Rather, it tells them that you are not interested in what they have to say. Interrupting is rude.

Now imagine an English person and a Spanish person holding a conversation.