Spain vs. Greece: Cultural Differences
There are many similarities between the value systems and the behaviour of the people of Greece and Spain. However, cultural differences do persist. One being how the people identify themselves with their country. Spain was unified in 1516. On the contrary, Greece became a country in 1821. Yet it seems to me that Greece has a much stronger sense of national identity than does Spain.
When it comes to interacting with individuals in these countries, here are a few cultural differences and observations:
There is one official language in Greece – Greek. 99.5% of the population speak the language. You have to go quite far afield to hear a dialect. On the other hand, while Castilian Spanish is common to the entire country (except these days in Catalunya, where some people refuse to speak it), there are at least 10 other languages with legal and/or co-official status in their respective communities.
Cultural differences in communities
Spain has 17 recognised autonomous communities – you might think it was a federation rather than a country. The national government recognises and protects local languages. This is especially true in Catalunya and Galicia, where the local languages are used by the local governments.
Finally, every Spaniard is quick to discuss characteristics of Spaniards in other parts of Spain and generally think their region is the best. This topic does not come up often when speaking with Greeks – they see themselves as Greek.
Making new friends in Spain is easier than making new friends in Greece. One friend here in Valencia explained it this way: Spaniards love large family gatherings. The extended family is traditionally very important. However, families are smaller these days so younger Spaniards create their own extended family by spending a lot of time with friends. Spaniards make an effort to turn work colleagues into friends by arranging off-work events with them. Greeks keep a bit more to themselves and put a bit less effort into making new friends. (Fun fact: Both Spaniards and Greeks are really noisy when in groups.)
Attitude toward people they do not know
As a long-term expat, I have asked many people for help or information. I have generally been treated graciously in both countries. However, I am still surprised by how often a Spanish woman will initiate a conversation with me on a bus or standing in a line.
Once, when I was waiting for a bus at a stop with a view of a large park, the unknown woman next to me commented that the three trees across the street had been planted at the same time. She pointed out one was obviously not doing as well as the others. After seeing that I was interested, she gave me a short talk about the park, its plants, and how much it had cost to create.
Importance of family
In both societies, family is super important. Weekend dinners with family are frequent and paramount. Children are expected to attend no matter their age. The only acceptable excuse is if you live far away.
Importance of education
A Greek family will make extreme financial sacrifices to see that their children get a university degree. This is seen as an indication of success. While Spanish parents certainly want their children to get a college education, the pressure on youth seems to be a bit less. (Bonus tip: Here’s a lesson in education from around the world.)
People in both countries communicate so directly that they can appear brusque or unfriendly. They are not – it just does not enter their heads that one might take offence. For example, in a restaurant, you are expected to know what you want to order when the waiter appears. You might get the feeling that she or he is impatient, however you should be bold and ask questions. The waiter will (usually) be happy to take the time needed to answer them.
On the other hand, you will be the one who becomes impatient while waiting in line and the person in front of you is discussing her latest child with the receptionist. However, when it is your turn (and this is key), the receptionist will take all the time you need.
Religion plays an important part in the cultures of both countries. It seems to be manifest more often in cultural activities than in public policy. Two examples: It is not unusual to see same-sex couples holding hands in public in Spanish cities, and abortion has been legal in Greece since 1986.
These two cuisines could not be more different, but that topic deserves its own article.