Work Culture Abroad

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work abroad? Our etutors weigh in on work culture in different countries.


By Sakura

Japanese work hours and work ethics are very similar to American ones, but perhaps the most unique cultural component of work life in Japan involves the use of honorific language. This formal style is required when speaking to both superiors and customers or clients. There is an honorific form, when the subject of a sentence is a superior, and a humble form, when the subject is yourself. Let’s take the verb 行きます ikimasu, which represents the regular form of “to go”. If you want to say that a superior is going, you use the honorific form いらっしゃいます irasshaimasu. Conversely, if you want to tell your superior that you are going somewhere, you use the humble form 参ります mairimasu. The formal style can be quite tricky. For young people, just starting out in their professional careers, using the honorific form can be a humbling experience replete with embarrassing moments, making errors. Yes, even native speakers sometimes have to struggle with the Japanese language!


By Max

Work (lavoro) is difficult to generalize: work is seen with either a positive or negative connotation according to areas and cultures. Some people find hard work (lavoro duro) something to avoid as it decreases quality of life. Some others find quite the opposite. The word for office employee in Italian is impiegato. Piegare means to bend over, hence the impiegato bends his/her back over to work. This should give you an idea.

Overall, in Italy, the work environment is way more laid back than in the USA. Also, Italians tend – and like – to underplay and make fun of work, even when they have exceptional achievements: as a Christopher Walken’s T-shit once said “Dance and shut up” — i.e. just do things, do not talk about them. We do not brag about, for instance,  “pulling an all-nighter” because 1) it simply implies you did not do your job properly before, hence you have to work during the night 2) we are aware that brain needs rest and there is something called a learning curve.


By Anna

In Spain, work hours are often ruled by the meals. For Spaniards, meal breaks are very important, especially lunch, which it is taken sometime between 1pm and 3pm. Spaniards like to take their time eating, and we spread our meals out during the day. That also means that we adapt our commercial hours and office hours to our eating habits.

The midday meal,  la comida as it is called in Spain, is the largest meal of the day. Usually we take a break between 1 and 2 hours to eat la comida and un cortado (expresso coffe with a bit of milk). This means going back to work after lunch and instead of finishing at 5pm we finish at 7pm or later. These work hours are very common in towns and neighborhoods with many local businesses. When I was a kid my brother used to pick me up from school at 1pm, we arrived home after a 10 minute walk and we enjoyed a long meal with our parents, who also had a two hour break from work. Schools started again at 3pm and my mother opened the doors of her own local store at 4:30pm.

In my home town near Barcelona all stores are closed between 1:30pm and 4:30pm and rush hour is 6pm. This is changing as more and more big companies open their doors without a midday break. Of course big chains, malls and large stores do not close their doors at lunch time! Work hours are changing slowly, especially in the downtown areas of big cities like Barcelona and Madrid. The standard office hours are 9 to 6 with a one hour break to eat. However it is not a big deal if you need 15 more minutes to digest la comida.

Lunch is always a time to sit down, eat, and hang out with colleagues. You will rarely see office workers having sandwiches on-the-go, or grabbing a small thing to eat for lunch at the corner store. It is also common in business to stop meetings to take lunch with a long sobremesa (hang out time at the table after the meal is over).