In some ways the world is getting smaller as globalization increases contact between different cultures around the world. Cross-cultural travel, such as a bus full of American tourists taking a holiday trip provided by a bus rental in Madrid, is just one of many forms of modern cultural exchange. However, this is not to say that human culture is anywhere near homogeneity. The differences between disparate cultures are still very significant. In many cases, these differences produce a beautiful diversity of food, clothing, art, and philosophy. But sometimes cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings and social friction.
One part of this problem is a general lack of objectivity. Human beings naturally have a strong bias to their own point of view and instinctively see alternative or competing viewpoints as incorrect or inferior. Consider the word “barbarian.” It was originally a Greek word that poked fun at the way non-Greeks sounded to Greeks, but over time it came to imply an inferior, brutish, violent, unintelligent culture.
So what does this have to do with, for example, a coach hire in Barcelona? Well, bus drivers, such as the ones who offer their services on a Spanish coach hire portal need to know how to deal with American tourists. By understanding American culture better, Spanish bus drivers (and other tourism service providers, such as hotel employees and tour guides) can better meet the needs and expectations of their clients. Of course, not all individuals conform to cultural stereotypes, but understanding cultural norms is generally a good starting point for dealing with most people from that culture.
A complete study of American culture is far beyond the scope of this blog entry, but the following is a very partial list of helpful insights. (Please keep in mind that these descriptions are meant to highlight different cultural priorities and equally valid viewpoints. I’m not trying to criticize or put down either American or Spanish culture.) First of all, Americans can be very outspoken, opinionated, and individualistic. Many Americans are very frank and will “tell it like it is” even if that involves hurting somebody’s feelings or reputation. Americans tend to be informal and talkative; it is not unusual for strangers to strike up a friendly conversation. Most Americans are not afraid to smile and laugh in front of people they don’t know, and telling a good joke is considered one of the best ways to make new acquaintances. Also, Americans will often ask “How are you?” and similar greeting questions and then move on without waiting for a response. This is not meant to be rude; it’s just a common idiosyncrasy.
In sharp contrast to Spanish culture, Americans tend to be very punctual and to expect others to be punctual, too. Americans value their time and do not share the flexible, laid-back attitude towards time that most Spaniards have. Americans will usually expect a transportation provider to arrive on time (or early) and may quickly become annoyed at even minor tardiness.
Compared to most European standards, Americans are—relatively speaking—very hygiene-conscious and take personal cleanliness extra seriously. Some Americans will be put off by even a little bit of foul body odor or bad breath. Also, Americans typically require a bit more personal space than people from most other cultures. Many Americans will feel awkward in a very crowded situation and my step away from someone in order to maintain their personal space. In Spanish culture, crowding is not seen as such a problem and stepping away from someone may be seen as an insult, but in American culture no offense is intended, so don’t take it personally.
Another example of the differences between Spanish and American cultures is the meaning of the hand gesture that involves putting the thumb and index finger together to form a circle with the other fingers extended. In America, this is the sign for “OK,” but in Spain it has a vulgar sexual meaning, so don’t get confused!
Another very pertinent cultural difference has to do with differing driving styles. Spanish drivers tend to drive at very high speeds and take sharp turns. This might frighten Americans who typically expect a bus driver to drive very carefully, take wide turns, and slow down and speed up gently.
- Do your best to arrive and depart on time. If you’re running late for a pick-up, call the tour group to let them know.
- If any tourists complain about perceived unsafe driving, just slow down a bit.
- Try to respect an American’s personal space and don’t be offended if an American steps back a bit when you’re talking to him/her.
- To avoid bad breath, brush your teeth after meals or chew on a mint candy or gum. Shower regularly and wear fresh clothes so to keep body odor at bay. A minimal amount of extra effort can obviously make quite a difference.
Another thing you can do during tours is to try to educate your American tourists about Spanish culture. Try to use humor and light-hearted examples of the differences in culture to help them to understand the Spanish point of view. But do be sensitive and use care not to imply that all Americans are dumb or that American culture is completely inferior. Just point out cultural differences without making too many judgments.
An interesting point to ponder is whether Spanish bus drivers should conform to American cultural expectations or if they should expect Americans to conform to Spanish culture while touring Spain. Most people would probably agree that since they are the guests, the Americans should try harder to respect Spanish culture, but in the interests of attracting more tourists (and making more money), it might be in the best interests of Spanish bus drivers to compromise a bit with American culture. What’s your opinion on this issue? Leave a comment below!