working abroad
February 26, 2007 9:53 AM   Subscribe

What is it like working for an International company in Europe. (ie. an American company in Spain or a French company in the UK).

I am doing a project in which I am writing about the experiences of workers who work for a company in an international setting (ie an American company in Madrid). Stories and experiences, differences, difficulties, management styles, expectations, etc. The greater the detail, the better. Overall Id like readers to get a good sense of what the overall experience was like.

posted by nyu2 to Work & Money (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
American, living in London for about ten years now. While here I've worked for a German Bank, a Dutch Bank, an American Credit Ratings agency and an American Bank.

I guess I could prattle on and on, but a few points.

Management styles. Well, what flies in New York, the blutness of a New Yorker making his point, won't in most of Europe. Even in countries that pride themselves on directness (e.g., The Netherlands) would wither or walk away in the face of a full on New York management tantrum.

Difficulties. Americans expecting other parts of the firm to adhere to their holiday schedule. Or even hours! While with the Credit Ratings agency our HQ was in San Francisco; I missed many teleconferences because they were scheduled to start at 12AM GMT. I wasn't the only one.

Political Correctness. Folks back in the US are just far too sensitive about this. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. Having a sense of humour in banking can cause problems for some of the thin skinned visiting from back home.

Working practices. Many European countries strictly control working time (it's actually a EU Directive). Folks at the Dutch Bank I worked for in Amsterdam were on a 35 hour week, but they had schedule flexibility. They could work five, seven hour days, or four nine hour days. Needless to say, its very common for someone to have "their day off" on a Monday or a Friday. Americans can't understand this and would make my life hell "Don't they work full time?". They just couldn't get it. In any case, I know what I would do if I were on such a contract. The four day week is the rational choise.

Pub culture. Seems to be quieting down somewhat, but when I first moved here in mid 1997, the guys from the bank would take me to a pub on Fridays for lunch. Seemed like standard practice back then to have a pint while waiting for the menu, another pint while deciding what to eat, and a final pint while waiting for the food. Holy shit, my head was definitely spinning before the bill arrived! Needless to say, I almost always eat at my desk.

Email is in profile. Drop me a line if I can be of any more help!
posted by Mutant at 11:00 AM on February 26, 2007

Brit, living in Norway, but have lived in Denmark and worked over much of Europe. American company.

The company culture is what you'd expect for a multi-national, there are however differences in how your co-workers behave and expectations depending on the location.

In Scandinavia, there is a clear division between work and home, little in the way of water cooler chats, a lot of people work and then go home to their families/friends. In 2 years working in Denmark I had dinner once in a Danish person's house. It's not that they are unfriendly at all, just most people have a enough friends thank you very much! Norway is a little more sociable, but much the same emphasis on the division between work and home. Life:work balance is definitely better than UK/US, thanks to a cultural emphasis on the family.

Italy: working lunches with wine were still very much in favour when I was there. Again, very family oriented, but very inclusive of the stranger from out of town, used to get invited to people's houses all the time.

Germany/Holland: More like the US/UK model, but differences such as work provided beer for the workshop guys at the end of their shifts in the afternoon!

Working internationally is great, travel broadens the mind, but you have to live in the country for a while to truly understand the culture. All of it has been positive so far.
posted by arcticseal at 11:18 AM on February 26, 2007

Thanks so much for you input. That is exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. If anyone else has any more of their experiences to add, I would really appreciate it especially if it pertains specifically to working in spain. Thanks!
posted by nyu2 at 1:21 PM on February 26, 2007

I was ten years old when my father was transferred to Germany, so this may or may not help at all. His German coworkers (and especially his boss) appeared to me to be very stuffy and humorless - I guess just about what the stereotype of the German businessman would be.

Lifestyle-wise, there are plenty of small idiosyncrasies that made living in a foreign country frustrating for my mother. The town supplied each home with a certain size garbage can (extra ones cost a substantial fee). I realize now that certain municipalities in the states also do this, but the garbage trucks in Germany had metal detectors to prevent you from throwing out recyclables. If it went off, they left your (full) can out for you to pick through.

Some other odd things about living there:
No washing your car, except at a car wash.
Dogs were allowed pretty much everywhere except supermarkets.
Public transportation was far superior to anything available in the States.

As far as rearing families go, my brother and I had the opportunity to attend an international school. They taught in English and had regular German classes. It seems that they're pretty ubiquitous around Europe.

I agree that the travel was the best part of living there. I did more in the two years I lived there than I have in the twelve years since.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:45 PM on February 26, 2007

European offices of American companies seem to do more work with less money than their American counterparts (not salary, but operating budgets).
posted by Goofyy at 7:35 AM on February 27, 2007

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