As corporate language trainers, we can tell you that there is more to language classes than just language. For example, when we help our clients learn Spanish, we also teach them about the culture of the Spanish speakers they’ll be interacting with.
We do this because effectively communicating in another language doesn’t just mean knowing the right vocabulary words. It also means understanding the behaviors of those around you.
In Spanish-speaking countries around the globe, you’ll find a variety of rich cultures. However, the cultures our clients most frequently need to learn about are those of Spain and Mexico. Just as these two countries have differences in the way they use Spanish, they also have important cultural differences.
In this article, we’ll give you an overview of some of those differences. (Please keep in mind, though, that — just like in the U.S. — there are also regional variations within each country.)
Communication Styles in Mexico and Spain
Before founding Fluency Corp, I spent time living in both Spain and Mexico. So I can give you my firsthand impressions of how people in both countries communicate.
Spaniards are direct, but at the same time diplomatic – not rude, but frank. They say the truth, even if it may sting a little. As someone who has also lived in Boston, where people also have a direct communication style, I felt very comfortable with this. People in Spain are also quite gregarious and will talk a lot — possibly loudly to show their feelings about a particular topic.
While the Spanish brought their language to Mexico, they did not bring their direct communication style. Or, if they did, it just didn’t stick. I found Mexican people to be very polite, indirect, and sugary sweet.
There are some similarities in the two countries’ communication styles, though. Communicating in public is more formal than what English speakers may be used to. Spanish speakers in both countries also show respect by using courtesy titles and last names (for example, Señor Smith) instead of first names.
Social Etiquette in Mexico and Spain
The differences in how people interact in Spain and Mexico can be evident from the first time you meet someone. In Mexico, I’ve found greetings to be warmer and more effusive. In Spain, things are a little more on the formal side.
The same kind of preferences play out in personal space. In Mexico, people tend to stand closer to you when speaking than they do in the U.S. In Spain, the opposite is true. The (unwritten) rules on punctuality, however, are a little looser in Spain. Both at work and in social settings, meetings or events can start a bit later than the stated time.
In Mexico, starting things on time is a bigger deal, especially at work. In informal, personal settings, things are a bit more flexible.
Differences Between Mexican and Spanish Food
Let’s finish up with a topic that most people love: food! I’ve had wonderful meals in both Spain and Mexico. But the cuisines of these two nations are very different.
Mexican food staples include corn, chilis, beans, tomatoes, fruit, and meat. Corn is found in the famous, warm Mexican tortillas and tamales, which are filled with just about any vegetable or meat and dipped in one of the many salsas, from mild to very picante. (Or as my grandfather says, picosa.) Just a few of the chiles you will run into in Mexico are cascabel, poblano, serrano, and jalapeño.
Each region of Mexico has its own specialties, such as shark and octopus in the Yucatan region.
In Spain, the typical daily diet is more Mediterranean style: olive oil, fish, vegetables, legumes, fruits, some poultry, and some dairy. Spain gets a large amount of its food from the sea (the country is surrounded by water) and the olive trees that flourish there.
Just like in Mexico, every region in Spain has its own specialties, like the empanadas from Galicia or the spicy chicken from Basque country. Of course, no matter where you are, you can get the famous Jamón ibérico (ham).
While the food is delicious in both Mexico and Spain, the way residents of each country enjoy that food is a little different. In Mexico, meals are more leisurely. In fact, there’s a word for Mexico’s dining style: sobremesa. It refers to spending relaxed time hanging out after a meal.
Teaching Fluency in Language AND Culture
If your organization’s U.S. employees interact with colleagues from Spain or Mexico, cultural fluency goes hand in hand with language skills in smoothing communication and encouraging connection.