Tonight I was having dinner with a Korean CEO who surprised me with the story that some 3 year old children in Korea take supplementary lessons in music, math, English to get into competitive schools. By the time they are 13 most Korean children are taking supplementary lessons to prepare for university exams.

In Spain where I live, most children never have supplementary classes, not when they are 3 nor when they are 10 nor when they are 15. Spaniards are by nature not very competitive people, nor are they ambitious, indeed “ambitious” is a derogatory term when applied to somebody´s personality. Now if Koreans work so hard and Spaniards are so relaxed about education and work, how can it be that Spain still ranks ahead of Korea in terms of GDP? And even in terms of PPP this is true.

Korea and Spain both were very poor 30 years ago, both had civil wars, long dictatorships, they have almost exactly the same population, indeed Korea has many global brands and Spain almost none so how can it be that Spaniards are still so much richer than Koreans? I really don´t understand this paradox. It seems that Koreans are working extremely hard from a very young age to achieve less and especially to have less time to enjoy life.

Spain is also hard to understand within Europe. I recently read that if the growth rates of the last 5 years remain constant the average income of a Spaniard will exceed that of a German. Germans are known for being extremely professional, hard working and well educated. Personally I love the Spanish lifestyle but most people associate a competitive education and a hard working life with success, something else seems to be going on here. Do Spaniards secretly work during siesta time? Are more Spaniards like the people at Fon who are many times working at 2am?

As it stands it seems that Spaniards are like those kids in school who never rarely study and still get the good grades.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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