Chronicle

Integrity and culture

I am fond of hugging, but I want to choose myself with whom I do it. What feels completely natural with one person can be very awkward with another. When other people get too close to me without me being prepared or feel that it is ok, things get uncomfortable. Besides, I assume that everyone around me should sense what I am signalling, where my personal space starts. It is so very obvious to me… Having colleagues, offices and business operations in Spain can therefore be quite exhausting.

Susanna Laurin

Title: Chief Research and Innovation Officer

I am genuinely interested in the Spanish culture. I really try to adapt to local traditions. I accept that I am a guest and I am curious and humble about cultural differences. I get along pretty well in Spanish, have dinner at midnight without grumbling, and observe an incomprehensibly hot dress code with a tolerant smile. But I do have a problem with the eternal kissing and hugging at all times.

And no matter how I ask and study my Spanish friends, I cannot seem to understand the rules. Where is the line drawn in business? When am I expected to kiss a complete stranger on the cheeks that I meet professionally and when am I expected to shake hands? Women and men, older and younger, suppliers and clients…I have to seem passive and let the other part take the initiative, because occasionally someone extends a stiff hand instead, obviously because they sense that I am one of those strange people from the north, who do not know how to greet another person.

It was a shame that we were not filming...

One of many fun memories from Madrid is when I, along Funka’s Spanish charmer José, met a former colleague of his, a busty woman who obviously loved him dearly and had longed to see him again. Slightly amused, I stood a few feet away and watched while she, almost like a parody of a loving mother from southern Europe, showered my colleague with kisses and hugs, screams, cheek-pinching, and laughter. He looked happy so I smiled too.

But then the tornado's attention suddenly turned to me... Like in a bad movie I felt, almost in slow motion, how something - sorry, someone - struck me with full force. According to José (who was laughing his head off), I looked completely terrified and stepped several metres back during the "attack". But that did not stop the welcoming woman to pour her love over me, too. The question is whether she even noticed that I was not completely keen.

In retrospect, I can say that the whole thing was a funny story, and in some strange way, I think I actually learned something about Spain - and myself. Even so, I have not changed my mind about when I would like to hug complete strangers, if and when I am allowed to decide for myself.

And then I made the same mistake

José is stationed at our office in Madrid and he is a person I do not meet often in person, despite the fact that we work closely together and love to socialise in private. A few years ago he appeared, a bit late (mañana!), to a staff activity in my garden at home. I was so glad to see him that I dashed forward and hugged him. Like a Swede does it: Properly, long and hard, so you can feel the mutual affection.   

He looked absolutely stunned, and the hug came out completely wrong. And this is the man who insists on kissing me on all cheeks as soon as we meet!

It is not easy to do the right thing...

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