Spain is a late country. I don’t mean this in terms of poor timekeeping but rather that life here goes on at a later hour than in the rest of the Western world. What time is dinner? From two to three o’ clock in the afternoon. And the evening meal? As late as nine or ten p.m. When do small kids go to bed? Later than this, obviously. Shops stay open until eight or eight thirty p.m. Most people won’t finish up in their jobs until at least six or seven p.m. A revealing statistic states that by eight o’ clock in the evening only 50% of the working population has made it home. By ten o’ clock this figure reaches 80%.
Keeping late hours can have consequences from the trivial to the more serious. Prime-time* television is later in Spain than in other Western countries and many of the most watched programmes do not finish until after midnight. If you want to see the latest episode of The Walking Dead, Bones or the Spanish equivalent of Letterman, you’re going to have to keep those peepers open until 12:30 a.m. and to hell with the less than seven hours sleep you’ll be getting. Perhaps the sleep deprivation your average Spaniard suffers from accounts for the low productivity of the workforce. And perhaps the low productivity is why your Spaniard is forced to work longer hours than their French of German counterparts, which means your average Spaniard arrives home later, eats later, watches TV later, goes to bed later, gets less sleep . . . It’s a chicken and egg situation.
It is quite common to see small kids out on the street here past midnight, especially in summer, when the only break from the dead heat comes with the post-sundown breezes. Kids being kids, they’ll be up and at ’em at the crack of dawn, so your average Spanish kid isn’t getting near enough sleep either. (I still have a visceral reaction to seeing tiny tots and their parents out and about in the wee hours. My heart screams “Skobies” or “Junkies” and I have to force myself to not to cross the street or check the pocket where I keep my wallet.)
Besides a national propensity for dragging everything out and never wanting things to end (Sunday lunch can last two-three hours, wedding banquets at least twelve, saying goodbye to a friend despite just having spent a whole night out in their company, an extra half hour) there is a valid reason for this lateness. It’s all Hitler’s fault, in fact. Spain is suffering from jet lag and this phenomenon dates back to the Second World War and a certain small, chubby, mustachioed fascist dictator’s attempts to ingratiate himself with another (slightly taller and slimmer) mustachioed fascist dictator. Up until 1942, Spain was in the same time zone as Britain, Ireland and Portugal, which makes eminent sense when you look at the figure above. After Germany’s invasion of France and moving of the latter into its own Central European timezone, General Franco, forever trying to suck up to his German counterpart, decided that Spain too should have the same time as Berlin. Thus, the peninsula adopted a wholly unsuitable time which stands to this very day.
The experts, the National Commission for the Rationalisation of Spanish Time, claim that reinstating Greenwich Mean Time (or Coordinated Universal Time as someone has changed it to behind my back) would have significant benefits for Spain. The morning would be shorter and people would have their lunch/dinner at an earlier hour. Midday would at last correspond to when the sun was highest in the sky! The evening meal would be an hour earlier and sunset would occur at a time more in keeping with circadian rhythms. Whether or not resetting the time (or timezone) would have a deep effect on behaviour patterns built up over three quarters of a century is a matter for debate, but at least everything would be pushed back by an hour. So instead of kids being out at midnight, they might be taken in, bathed and put to bed at eleven p.m. The Mentalist would finish up by eleven thirty p.m. and the country’s workers could get their beauty sleep. Productivity might go up! There would be less industrial accidents!! Spain would rise from the ashes of recession!!! And all because of the simple act of changing the clocks. We do it twice a year anyway.
I’ll let you know if the National Commission for the Rationalisation of Spanish Time gets its way.
*There is a siesta-time prime time in Spain as well — from 15:00 to 18:00 — when many folk will turn the TV on, kick back and have a postprandial snooze. Many shops will close from 13:30 to 17:30 to allow their workers go home and eat and have their siesta. In Madrid, the only folk wandering the streets between these times are tourists, scratching their heads and wondering why no shops are open. Me and my family usually do our big weekly grocery shop during siesta time on a Saturday — we have the supermarket to ourselves!