U01: Cultural Norm or Vice

Can one vice be considered a cultural norm in another country? I believe cultural context has a huge influence on what one believes to be ethical and what is not ethical. I am an American, who currently and has been living and working abroad for more than 5 years. This brings with it many amazing benefits, cultural experiences and sometimes even shocks. Currently, I call home Barcelona, Spain. It is a bustling city with loads of history and culture, drinking and food make up a huge part of the local culture.

I have lived and worked in the USA, Singapore, Switzerland, Mexico and now Spain…and until now I have never seen so much drinking during lunch hour. It has been a rather big shock for me, many times  I struggle with it and especially at the beginning when I first arrived. In all of the places I have worked it was not common to drink at lunch, and if you were to drink it may be to celebrate something on a very rare occasion.  It is highly talked and written about culture, the Spanish eating and drinking culture which also is one of its greatest attractions .But does that include during work hours, don’t we have an ethical responsibility to ensure we are preforming our best for the company?

Upon my first week working in Spain I realized that people at my company were drinking at lunch, and not on occasion but everyday. Many of my colleagues would have a beer or a glass of wine at lunch everyday and even a second…and sometimes you would see a third!  It didn’t feel very ethical to me, is it possible they have vices? How can you possibly do your work well in the afternoon after a couple of drinks?

“Ethics is concerned with the kinds of values and morals an individual or society finds desirable or appropriate” (Northouse, 2015, p.330). And considering this definition and from my perspective, I would say this isn’t ethical. You are not performing your work or meeting the duty you have to your organization (PSU,2018). Could this also be a vice of the individuals? Vices are characteristics or traits, in general weakness that make individuals susceptible to making ethical violations (PSU, 2018).  Could this additional drinking lead to not meeting your responsibilities to your work organization?

I, as HR, was rather concerned and began scouring the handbook and local employment law to see what risk we have. And much to my surprise, I couldn’t find anything. I thought “this can’t be right,  I haven’t looked in the correct place”. So, naturally, my next step was to discuss with our labor relations specialist, and as I asked him he looked at me as if I was from another planet. And so I thought, “well, my Spanish is rusty…can it be he doesn’t understand me??” And he finally answered and told me in Spanish “of course they can have a drink if they want one, why wouldn’t they be allowed, who can tell them no!!”. His answer was so passionate and he was clearly offended by such a question.

The more I looked around the more I realized how common this was, and even see the same two gentleman eating and drinking together everyday. They actually have a ritual of sorts, they start at the café bar with a beer and then move to the table where they will have their lunch and share a bottle of wine. There lunch hour must be two or even three hours, and I struggle understanding how they still have a job within our company; and again,  I ask myself if there is a vice here and maybe this isn’t ethical? Here in Spain you are being paid to work 39 hours, but you are taking extended lunch breaks and drinking at lunch as well! But, then I realize…maybe I am looking at this from my cultural lens.

There is new research that suggest that moral identity is culturally biased (Jia and Krettenauer, 2017).  If moral identity is culturally biased, then that influences ethical perceptions and would make it very possible that I am probably imparting my ‘Americanisms’ onto the Spanish organization.  It is a global company and we expect some global norms, but at the same time we have to realize the different local cultural nuances. So maybe I need to adopt the phrase, “when in Rome”!





Jia, Fanli and Krettenauer, Tobias (21 March 2017). Recognizing Moral Identity as a Cultural Construct frontiers in Psychology V.8. retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5359277

Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

PSU (2018). PSY 533: Lesson 01: Ethics and Leadership. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1913945/pages/l01-overview?module_item_id=25041751

PSU. (2018). PSY 533: Lesson 02: Vices and Temptations. (Lecture Notes). Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1913945/pages/l02-overview?module_item_id=25041764


  1. hda13 September 23, 2018 at 7:52 PM #

    Your piece does a beautiful job placing another lense on the perspective of vices based on cultural norms. The definition of vices by Northouse, that they are essentially categorized by an individual or society supports your idea that different cultures or societies might have different terms for vices. This example of drinking through the work day exemplified this brilliantly. In America it would be grounds for termination in most cases to consume alcohol during work hours. It would seem totally unethical from an American’s point of view, however, it is the norm in Spain and therefore would not be considered a vice by many. I enjoyed this perspective on vices with the support of Notrhouse’s Ideas!

    Northouse, P.G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Retrieved from: http://psu.instructure.com.

  2. K. Marthea Wilson September 23, 2018 at 6:12 PM #

    Tabitha, What amazing exposure you have to cultural norms worldwide.j Your post is thought-provoking because it exemplifies what Northouse described as weaknesses in theories of ethical leadership (p. 348). Furthermore, we can also consider, through your post, whether and how ethnocentrism affects our perceptions of what is ethical leadership. (p.429) There are undeniable cultural biases in our perceptions of what is moral and ethical. But I wonder how those are to be reconciled when they differ from our individual moral codes. Quite an ethical challenge indeed!

  3. Vernon Derby September 23, 2018 at 12:32 PM #


    Northouse, P. G. (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc

  4. Vernon Derby September 23, 2018 at 12:28 PM #

    Tabitha – Your blog brings up a lot of valid points as it relates to ethics and leadership. However, in my opinion the basis of your argument has more to do with culture than anything else; still ethics and leadership though. Your assessment of consuming alcohol during working hours, specifically at lunch as a “vice” would be highly accurate in United States, and from what you stated, the other countries where you have worked as well. Northouse (2017) defines your analysis to be completely normal, and refers to it as “ethnocentrism” (p. 428). Ethnocentrism is “the tendency for individuals to place their own group (ethical, racial, or cultural) at the center of their observations of others and the world” (Northouse, 2017, p. 428). Your perception of the vice is probably very accurate. However, as you stated in your blog, it’s how you’re perceiving it from your lens that makes it a vice or abnormal. As I read through your blog, I couldn’t help but ponder if it would be considered unethical if you decided to partake in their cultural ritual of drinking during lunch. Is it acceptable for an individual to participate in an event considered to be a vice in one culture but acceptable in another? For example, if a team of executives from your native culture were to visit you in Spain, and you drank three glasses of wine during lunch with them, would you still have a job at the end of the day? This was a very interesting post, and I enjoyed navigating through different scenarios with it. Thanks Tabitha.

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