A man takes a nap in Barcelona
Madrid, Feb. 18: Dipping into a bucket filled with Mahou beers, Jorge Rodríguez and his friends hunkered down on a recent Wednesday night to watch soccer at MesóViña, a local bar.
At a nearby table a couple were cuddling, oblivious to others, as a waitress brought out potato omelets and other dinner orders. Then the game began. At 10pm.
Which is not unusual. Even as people in some countries are preparing for bed, the Spanish evening is usually beginning at 10, with dinner often being served and prime-time television shows starting (and not ending until after 1am). Surveys show that nearly a quarter of Spain’s population is watching television between midnight and 1am.
“It is the Spanish identity, to eat in another time, to sleep in another time,” said Rodríguez, 36, who had to get up the next morning for his bank job.
Spain still operates on its own clock and rhythms. But now that it is trying to recover from a devastating economic crisis — in the absence of easy solutions — a pro-efficiency movement contends that the country can become more productive, more in sync with the rest of Europe, if it adopts a more regular schedule.
Yet what might sound logical to many non-Spaniards would represent a fundamental change to Spanish life. For decades, many Spaniards have taken a long midday siesta break for lunch and a nap. Under a new schedule, that would be truncated to an hour or less.
Television programmes would be scheduled an hour earlier. And the elastic Spanish working day would be replaced by something closer to a 9-to-5 timetable.
Underpinning the proposed changes is a recommendation to change time itself by turning back the clocks an hour, which would move Spain out of the time zone that includes France, Germany and Italy. Instead, Spain would join its natural geographical slot with Portugal and Britain in Coordinated Universal Time, the modern successor to Greenwich Mean Time.
“We want to see a more efficient culture,” said Ignacio Buqueras, the most outspoken advocate of changing the Spanish schedule. “Spain has to break the bad habits it has accumulated over the past 40 or 50 years.”
For the moment, Spain’s government is treating the campaign seriously.
In September, a parliamentary commission recommended that the government turn back the clocks an hour and introduce a regular eight-hour workday.
As yet, the government has not taken any action.
A work-day abbreviated by siestas is a Spanish cliché, yet it is not necessarily rooted in reality. Instead, many urban Spaniards complain of a never-ending workday that begins in the morning but is interrupted by a traditional late-morning break and then interrupted again by the midday lunch.
If workers return to their desks at 4pm (lunch starts at 2), many people say, they end up working well into the evening, especially if the boss takes a long break and then works late.