Categorized | Daily Life

Why so late?

Posted on 20 April 2014 by American expat!

lateMy friends and family (those who have not visited Spain) are bewildered when they call and find me just sitting down to dinner at 10pm. I assure them that this is 1) standard in Spain, and 2) that I’m not trying to conform to any kind of Spanish timetable. Because 10pm feels about right for dinner, because everything happens later here.

There is an explanation for this, maybe you already know it. It’s that Spain uses the same time zone that includes France, Germany and Italy. But Spain is geographically aligned with Portugal and Britain, which live life in Coordinated Universal Time. So in fact the clocks here are ‘wrong’ – according to where the sun is in the sky and also according to what my body thinks.

This is because Fransisco Franco (the country’s dictator from 1939 to 1975), during WWII, set clocks forward to align with Nazi Germany. Portugal also changed the clocks ahead during the second World War, but returned to UCT (then called Greenwich Mean Time) after the defeat of Hitler. But Spain kept the same time with Germany, presumably because Franco was a jerk and held tight to his fascist values.

Over time, Spain’s culture adapted to this time change in the form of breakfast breaks for workers (there isn’t time enough in the morning at home for breakfast), lunches from around 2-4 in the afternoon, which is the same time businesses close for siesta, though this is entirely flexible and dependent on the discretion of the owner but is generally for 2-3 hours between 1pm and 5pm. This long lunch/siesta pushes closing hours late into the evening, as workers are only returning to work around 4pm. So kicking off work happens anywhere between 6 and 9pm. And this is why dinner is not unusual at 10pm.

The good side of this is that things stay open later, unlike other European countries where everything is locked tight at 6pm. No, I can roll out of my office at 9:15pm and now that I still have 15 minutes before the post office down the street closes, then after that can pop into Carrefour for some, um, salad (OK I mean American cookies and wine) before heading riding a bike home. If it is summer, I can head to the beach at 7pm and still catch some rays and have a swim before the sun sets at 9:45pm.

Spain is talking about reverting to their actual geographical time zone, positing that it will make a more efficient workforce (with this I completely agree) as well as allow working parents to have time with their children in the evenings, though I question the necessity for this last point as children never seem to go to bed here, they are still running frenzied around plazas and yelling from their strollers at midnight.

I know visitors are bewildered to find most restaurants are not yet open for dinner at 8pm, and cafes not yet open for a coffee at 8 or even 9am. New expats have a tough time with late lunches and dinners, though most–if not all–adapt quickly and find themselves loving the late lifestyle. I find it easy to switch between a US schedule and Spanish one, probably because the lifestyles are so different – but also because the clocks here are ‘wrong’.

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