On the whole, Spanish people wake later than North Americans. They don’t eat a big breakfast, perhaps coffee and some toast, before beginning their work day around 9 AM. Later in the morning, around 11 AM, they take a break and have a snack, often accompanied by some wine. They stop work for lunch at around 2 PM, returning home if possible for a heavy lunch (2 or more courses) followed by a siesta. The siesta is a short mid-afternoon nap usually taken on a couch rather than in bed, for a maximum of 20-30 minutes.
Most Spanish adults (about 80 percent) keep with the custom of having a siesta in the middle of the afternoon. They then return to work around 4 PM and work until 7 or 8 PM. Dinner is eaten around 10 PM and is less filling than lunch. It is often followed by a walk. So they Spanish stay up late. Spanish prime time television on week nights does not begin until midnight! The average Spaniard sleeps about 40 minutes less per day (in total) than the average European. Perhaps this is why then need a nap!
Some people don’t follow the tradition of the siesta. Children have school hours similar to those in North America, returning home in late afternoon around the end of their parent’s siesta. But they stay up late like their parents, eating dinner at 10 PM, and can often be seen playing in the street after this time (on a school night!). Also, people working for multi-national corporations typically keep the American work schedule.
The siesta developed in an age when most people worked close to their homes. Those who commute long distances to work today are often without a place for siesta. They can be seen wandering about or napping on park benches while they wait to return to work. Apparently beauty salons and day spas are popular as people go there after lunch for a manicure or pedicure and a quick nap while receiving it.
As a result of the siesta, shops and government offices typically open at 9 or 10 AM, close for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon, and remain open until about 7 or 8 PM.
Restaurants don’t usually open for lunch until 1:30 or 2 PM. Any restaurant serving dinner before 9 PM is strictly for tourists. The staff don’t even sit down for their pre-work meal until after 8 PM. If you want to eat before 9 or 10 PM, a good option is to eat several tapas while enjoying a drink in a bar.
Although both the Italian and French take long lunch breaks, the Spanish are the only ones to make a habit of the siesta. It’s perhaps a natural by-product of the hot summer weather — rest when it is hot in the afternoon and be more active in the evening when it is cooler.
Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
If I’m going to eat a big meal, I think that it’s probably healthier to have it in the middle of the day (but when I’ve tried this, I often end up eating a big late dinner also, so that kind of defeats the purpose). I think it also lowers stress to take a break in the middle of the day, step away from work (even for a short while), and relax.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
From the Latin “si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi” meaning, “if you are in Rome, live in the Roman way; if you are elsewhere, live as they do there”.
Advice given by St. Ambrose to Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century, AD.
So, how have we adapted to the Spanish schedule? We’ve found that we’ve naturally started to stay up later and sleep in later. We’re also eating our meals later. It’s 10:15 PM now and Diane is just serving our supper. When we went out for lunch the other day in Barcelona we had a 3 course meal, and even though it was vegetarian, we were stuffed for hours afterwards, requiring only a light dinner. So far, we haven’t retreated back to the S&M Motel for a siesta, but perhaps that’s next.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
I think I’ll go take a nap.