Spanish Prime Minister Seeks To Scrap The Traditional Siesta
Power-nap aficionados considering a move to Spain to take advantage of the country’s age-old tradition of taking midday siestas may be sorely disappointed if the current prime minister has his way.
Speaking at a political convention, Mariano Rajoy this week announced a plan to formally eliminate the siesta from Spain’s work schedule and to trim the formal workday by two hours.
For several decades, Spaniards have worked so-called jornadas partidas, which splits the normal workday into two parts—one in the morning from 8 or 9 a.m. until about 1:30 or 2 p.m., and the second in the afternoon and early evening from roughly 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. The period in between has evolved into an extended lunch break during which many businesses close.
That’s the stereotype. But the reality is that many modern Spanish—especially those who work for major multinational companies with offices on the peninsula—work something much closer to a nine-to-five workday. The siesta tradition is far more prevalent in rural southern Spain than in it is in the industrialized north.
The tradition of a split workday originally was intended to offer respite from the Iberian heat but is seen as something of an anachronism in an era of widespread air conditioning. It is also often blamed for Spain’s sluggish economic productivity.
Rajoy told the conference that he wants to find a consensus among unions and business leaders that ends the standard workday at 6 p.m. He also wants to move Spain onto Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Spain currently uses Central European Time (CET), which is one hour ahead of GMT during the winter and two hours ahead during the summer. Spain’s former dictator, Francisco Franco, adopted CET during World War II in solidarity with Nazi Germany.
Spanish lawmakers have debated the idea before. In 2013, a parliamentary committee approved a proposal to change Spanish clocks back one hour. But the full legislature never agreed.
News of the proposed change in working hours caused barely a ripple in the Spanish media initially, but was quickly seized upon by the foreign press—especially the British tabloids—eager to perpetuate a stereotype of Spaniards as being lazy and unproductive.
“British headlines say Rajoy wants to scrap 3-hour naps,” wrote Spain’s conservative ABC daily. “The international press quips: Rajoy wants to scrap the siesta,” was the headline on El País, Spain’s leading newspaper.
“A big fat lazy slob sleeping a siesta! It’s an offensive image—but it’s an image people outside of Spain have of Spain,” Matthew Bennett, editor of the website The Spain Report, told National Public Radio. “It’s a stereotype of Spain, along with bulls and flamenco and tortilla and sangria—like the English and rain and umbrellas and bowler hats. There’s no way of getting rid of these historical stereotypes—but they do grate with Spaniards, because they work very hard.”