Hola todos personas! Como estas?

I have been in Spain for about a week now and my high school Spanish classes are slowly filtering back into the forefront of my mind (muchos gracias Senora Valentin). Jen even told me a few days ago how impressed she was with my ability to communicate with strangers (albeit with incorrect, incoherent, or non-existent grammar). So what is there to report so far?

Bull Runners in Pamplona having a post-run rest.
Bull Runners in Pamplona having a post-run rest.

I suppose the first order of business would be to address the famous (or infamous) concept of the Siesta. I’m sure all of you have heard of it at one point or another, but essentially the Siesta is a midday nap. Yes, here in Espana, naps ain’t just for kindergartners anymore. Everyone of almost every age has taken culturally approved and condoned two to three hour breaks for meals and rests (around 1pm or 2pm), every day for the past seventy years.

What’s the point of such a rest? Well, for starters people used to work outdoors and when the temperatures became unbearable, they would take breaks. They would also work later to compensate. That habit led to late night socializing, and has since become the cultural phenomenon that it is today. Many experts will tell you that humans have a biological need for a nap in the middle of the day, however, the negative result of such a practice is that Spaniards end up working more hours than their counterparts in the rest of the European Union, yet at the same time, produce far less (and they get less sleep every night).

The biggest side effect of the Siesta is that late nights out have become the norm, even for the smallest of children. In fact, our Lonely Planet guidebook suggests that if you’re travelling with kids, you must get them adjusted to the late nights as quickly as possible so that they don’t miss anything (including the final meal of the day which isn’t typically eaten until 9pm or 10pm).

Put together, the Siesta in the afternoon coupled with the late nights out and about have drastically altered the business schedule as well. For example, most retail establishments don’t open their doors until 10am, but they close at 1pm for the Siesta and even though the break is supposed to only be a few hours, they won’t reopen their shops until after 5pm.

A Sampling of Pintxos (Tapas) in Spain

Restaurants have a different – and even crazier – schedule. If you get hungry between 11am and 4pm, you are good to go. However, if you find yourself needing a meal or a quick snack between 4pm and 8pm – good luck to you. All the restaurants close until the late night runs for tapas (pintxos, in Navarre). Getting stuck in the middle of the city with empty stomachs has already happened to us twice in a week.

I’m sure you can only imagine how difficult it must be to adjust your biological clock to this kind of schedule. I didn’t realize before we arrived, how much of a toll it would take on my body. I find myself getting tired (and hungry) at weird times. And until I began researching to write this article, I didn’t know exactly why. It all goes back to the Nazis… believe it or not. But we’ll get to that.

Color-Coded for your Convenience (Notice the positioning of the U.K. in relation to Spain)
Color-Coded for your Convenience (Notice the positioning of the U.K. in relation to Spain)

How did Spain get themselves into such a confusing mess? One major reason: they’re in the wrong time zone and most of the citizenry doesn’t even know it. Geographically, the Greenwich Meridian cuts across Spain, putting Madrid (the capital city) in the same longitude as London, UK. But, the nation is an hour ahead of the Brits, Scots, and Irish.

The outcome is that the sun rises and sets later in Spain than in the rest of the continent. Even the longest days of the summer, the sun doesn’t come up before 7am, and in the winter it doesn’t rise oftentimes until after 9am (thanks to daylight savings time)! Which means the people – both workers and students – have to wake up in total darkness.

Every few years, news reports surface that Spain’s political and economic advisers want to change the time zone to coincide more with the U.K. and thus creating a longer span of daylight. Instead of the population eating at 2pm and 9pm, they’ll eat at 1pm and 8pm (the standard time most of the rest of Europe eats and takes breaks). Hence why retail establishments and schools don’t get going until 10am in most cases, however, for office workers who begin their day at 8:30am or 9am, the lunch Siesta is a long way off. They need a coffee break in the middle of the morning as well – and why everyone must work even later in the evenings.

Siestas… Siestas… Siestas…

Franco Meets Hitler in 1940
Franco Meets Hitler in 1940

Changing the time zone to where it is geographically appropriate would have a huge benefit and cost the workforce practically nothing. They would gain so much in the way of energy and efficiency. Now, let’s get back to those damn Nazis. The year was 1942 and Spain’s dictator, General Francisco Franco wanted to show Hitler, his fascist ally, his support. Therefore, in an often criticized and bewildering move, he altered the time zone to coincide with Germany’s. And there it has remained ever since.

In history classrooms in the United States, Spain’s role in WWII is marginalized, but the totalitarian regime under Franco did a lot of damage to the people on the Iberian Peninsula in much the same ways Hitler did in central Europe (thanks to a lot of financial and military support from Germany, Italy, and even Russia). I won’t go into it now, but there were concentration camps and executions in addition to his time zone change. The combination of these events made Spain an international pariah and halted their inclusion in the U.N. and NATO following the ending of the war.

Which brings me to the end of my first blog from Spain. I hope you enjoyed reading it and having me back online again. I’m now six hours ahead of the Eastern states, so I’ll try and post them when you’re waking up in the mornings to read over your coffee, tea, or other hot beverages. And in the meantime, I will adjust the rest of my biological clock to sleeping and eating when it’s culturally appropriate here with the Spaniards.

Hasta la Proxima…



3 thoughts on “Stop!… Siesta Time!

  1. Ok that’s crazy Spain is on that time zone. I’m sure it’s convenient when you’re crossing in from France to not change time zones. But they need to get with Portugal and the UK for sure.

    Shoot me an email sometime. I’ve tried to email you once or twice over the past, oh… 2 years. But I’m not sure I have the right address. Always interesting reading your blogs and congrats to you and Jen!

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