Everyday in Spain, from about 2 to 5 pm, stores lock their doors, parents pick their children up from school, and life stops to take a deep breath. The idea of taking a siesta is unique to Spanish culture, and one of its suggested origins is the extremely oppressive heat that bears down in the early afternoon. Whether or not that is the case, the siesta affects almost every aspect of Spanish life. Because of the mid-day break “descanso” (rest), businesses usually stay open until 8 or 9 pm, and restaurants begin to serve dinner later, at about the same time. In a chain reaction, it is difficult to get an early breakfast, with most cafes opening their doors at around 9am. Initially, siestas seem awesome. I mean, who wouldn’t want to take a two to three hour break from work or school every day that is specifically designed for eating and sleeping? However, Spaniards are tired of the hours that differ so greatly from the rest of Europe.
Earlier this month, the acting Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, proposed an elimination of the siesta. Though it is a cultural tradition, many are in favor of a nine-to-five workday. It is already easy to see a change from the traditional siesta hours in major cities such as Madrid and Barcelona.
The second part of the proposal made by Rajoy is equally interesting. Spain is on Central-European time, which doesn’t make all that much sense, considering it is located farther west than almost all of the rest of Europe. The country used to be on the same time as Great Britain, Portugal, and Morocco—all countries that are geographically in line with Spain. However, during World War II, in order to show his alliance to Hitler and Germany, Franco made the decision to push all of the clocks ahead one hour. Because of the shift, the sun sets significantly later in Spain than it does in the rest of Europe. Rajoy’s proposal suggests shifting all of the clocks in Spain back to the time zone that makes more sense geographically. The hours of daylight that last long into the night, in addition to the cultural siesta, contribute to the late hours of the workday.
Both aspects of Rajoy’s proposal would cause significant changes in the daily life of people all over the country. Personally, adjusting to the siesta was very difficult for me when I first arrived in Spain. It became easier once classes began for the semester, because the university schedule doesn’t pause for siesta. For those who are not Spanish, the concept is really strange. However, though siestas are seen as one of the culturally defining aspects of Spain, they could become a part of the cultural past—along with bull-fighting and “machismo” ideas. Whatever the outcome of Rajoy’s proposal is, it is interesting to think about the delicate line that lies between recognizing and maintaining the cultural past of a country and making changes to be more modern and move forward.