Monday, 14 May 2012

Translating professionalism

Not long before I was due to fly out to Spain to begin an internship at an English language newspaper based on the Costa del Sol, a terrifying thought suddenly struck me; how on earth do you dress professionally in a hot climate? I took myself post-haste to the ‘office’ section of Primark in the hope of creating a respectable ensemble or two that would not leave me dripping with sweat. This was unnecessary for two reasons: Firstly, I seemed to have forgotten that Spain is in fact part of the developed world and was likely to have discovered air conditioning, and secondly, this was the first of many times that my British take on professional etiquette would be entirely out of sync with that of our fiesta-going Mediterranean amigos...

My emails enquiring as to what time to turn up to the job on my first day had gone unanswered, so, the night before, I made the executive decision that 10 am would have to do, chose an outfit from my suitcase of generic work clothes and located the newspaper offices on my rain-sodden map (that’s right, the Costa del Sol does not always do what it says on the tin). However, when I walked into the office at 10 a.m. on the dot and offered my hand along with a confident smile to my new boss, she brushed my formal gesture to one side, said ‘This is how we do it here!’ and planted two besos, kisses, enthusiastically on my cheeks. Just as well I had not decided to arrive at 9 am, as nobody would have been there to greet me, and with regards to the sartorial issues it is safe to say that I need not have worried about inappropriate attire – some of the outfits sported by the young Spanish interns did not leave a lot to the imagination.

OK, this guy is taking it too far...

The Spanish rhythm of life is just as different to ours in the workplace as it is in the social sphere. The all-night fiestas and midnight eating habits are reflected in the late starts, regular coffee breaks (sitting around drinking coffee from tiny glasses with no handles and eating toasted bread topped with tinned tomatoes or a suspicious looking orangey lard-like substance, accompanied with a good dose of gossip) and incredibly long lunch breaks. I quickly learned that if I was going to need something from Juan the digital art guy then I would have to hunt him down before 1 pm, otherwise I could be waiting a long time. Obviously I was aware of the siesta tradition, but judging by the miserable weather that I experienced during my first month in Spain I can assure you that the heat was not affecting their ability to work. Mind you, my flatmate swore by the benefits of a little midday snooze, and the idea certainly does seem tempting during a long day at the office.

Who needs a siesta in this weather?

The more I settled into the relaxed work routine in Spain, the more I appreciated it. Whilst we say ‘work hard, play hard’, their equivalent seems to be ‘play hard, which may result in you needing a quick nap and several caffeine boosts in order to work hard the next day’. It’s all about priorities.

TommyGirl xx

*Originally published in the Epigram newspaper (University of Bristol)

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