The Spanish are famous for their schedule, which historically was built around the afternoon Siesta. It’s perhaps one of the most traditional things they do. Siesta first existed so families could share their main meal of the day together in the afternoon, followed by a nap. Many Spaniards still do this on Sundays, but the everyday practice is almost non-existent. While a virtually abandoned practice in the bigger cities, the effects of the Spanish Siesta is still very evident in the modern work and school schedule.
Obviously, there are varying levels of types of jobs, employers etc. that impact the schedule. In this context, I’m mostly referring to the average day of a managerial level person.
Here’s how it goes:
9:00 – 9:30 a.m. – arrive to work
10:30 – 11:00 a.m. – take a cigarette break (still incredibly common), have a café and a light breakfast.
11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. – do actual work
2:00 – 4:00 p.m. – have a long leisurely lunch consisting of a three-course meal. In the business world it really is usually only one hour, but is not uncommon for it to start at 3 p.m. Often the one hour is extended by a subsequent 15 to 30-minute café, and of course there is a lot of smoking before, after and in between.
4:00 – 8:00 p.m. – do actual work
9:00 p.m. – be home in time for a light dinner
Midnight to 1:00 a.m. – go to bed (unless you’re at a work function and in this case, you don’t go home until the early morning hours).
Not only do the locals live this schedule but restaurants and small shops also follow this timetable respectably. Small shops close from 2-5 p.m. and the majority of restaurants close from 5-8:30 p.m. The Spanish schedule is appealing at some levels, mostly in the summer when everyone goes indoors for the long lunch to escape the hottest part of the day. In the summer it’s very normal to see families with young children out late at night, strollers and toddlers at midnight…on purpose. Sometimes you will see a three year old having a tantrum at 11:45 p.m. and you just want to say, “I am not an expert….but I think they might just want to go home.” Not to belabor the point, but on more than one occasion we have had to endure our boys getting upset and saying that we were being unfair when we made them leave a soccer game at the park at 11:30 p.m.. “What? It isn’t time to go…it is still early…we are still playing…you are the worst parents ever.”
Here’s where we stand on the schedule. Taking our kids to a three-hour lunch or out to dinner at 9 p.m. sounded like the worst idea in the world when we first moved here, and now, almost two years later, it still does. This has had somewhat of an impact on how we go out as a family, but in a good way. We don’t go out to eat much and instead make most of our meals at home. There are a couple of restaurants we like that are open in the early evening hours so we will occasionally go to these. The nice part is that the restaurants open at this time are virtually empty.
I still forget sometimes how the schedule affects things like making appointments. If the receptionist asks if you want a morning appointment, what they really mean is noon to 2 p.m. If you request an afternoon appointment, they will suggest a time after 5 p.m. I’m so used to doctor’s offices closing by this time so this still takes me by surprise. They also do this so parents can take their children to appointments after school rather than missing school in the middle of the day. It is not normal to take your kids out of school.
Of all the ways the Spanish schedule has impacted our lives, I found the work schedule to be the most interesting and to be completely honest, the most frustrating part of living here. When we moved to Spain, we couldn’t imagine that the Spanish schedule would impact Todd’s work schedule that much. We were wrong, unfortunately. Usually, summer is more low-key for us in the states, but when we arrived we quickly found out that was not the case here (this is partly because they take the whole month of August off). While we are not strangers to long work hours, it was frustrating that Todd felt he needed to stay late with everyone when they took a two-hour lunch break and multiple smoking breaks and he did not. Granted it was a big year for his team and long work hours are necessary at times. I should probably clarify here that this has been our experience, and many Spaniards do not have this type of schedule.
The Spanish Siesta created a catch 22 in a way. Instead of shortening the work/school day, they just fill it with longer breaks and less urgency. This wonderful, laidback, family-oriented custom of breaking in the middle of the day to be with your family and rest, now results in people spending more time outside the home at school or work, without getting any real rest (other than perhaps a three-hour meeting Todd has dozed off in), and ultimately having less time at home as a family.
We’ve heard rumors that Spain is considering joining the rest of the world and following a “normal” schedule, we shall see. Of course, if you’re visiting Spain following the traditional schedule should definitely be part of the experience, and don’t miss the churros!