In my years of teaching Spanish in a language school in Madrid, I heard several of my students complaining and claiming that they were feeling “engañados” (deceived) about the whole Spanish siesta culture. Many of them went to Spain trying to have a break from their hectic Anglo-Saxon lifestyle and willing to live the “Spanish-dream”. Before arriving to Spain, they were picturing their stay in the South European country as a stress-free experience, where life goes by slowly and 2-hour naps are the norm. Once they got to Madrid, they encountered a pretty different reality.
Madrid, with a 5 million population, is not very different than other major European cities: traffic jams, people rushing in the subway escalators, long working hours (actually longer than most European countries), etc. Many madrileños work 9 to 5 (or 9 to 7), malls open from 10 am to 10 pm, supermarkets and franchises never close in the middle of the day. Even family businesses and traditional stores located in the center of the city are opened to the public from early in the morning to the late evening.
This was a scenario that some of my students were not expecting. Shocked about this realization, they came to the conclusion that the Spanish siesta does not exist anymore, that it was just an extinguished practice from the good old times. But, is Spanish siesta a myth? Do Spaniards still sleep siesta?
Spanish siesta normally takes place around 3 pm. Most sources coincide that Siesta (or midday napping) has its origins in Mediterranean countries, where this time of the day is particularly hot. Sometimes, too hot to be productive. Siesta has been a common practice in countries like Spain, Greece, and Italy, and it was most likely originated in the countryside of Andalusia. In this Southern Spanish region, peasants used to nap to avoid the hottest hours of the day and to get the energy to keep working until late.
The Spanish habit of having dinner late and going to bed late (many people are awake until 1 am on weekdays) may have popularized siesta in the rest of the country. Even in urban areas, people started to take naps as a way to have energy during the last hours of the day. However, this Spanish tradition is becoming less and less popular, due to different reasons.
A research study from 2009, showed that 58% of Spaniards never have siestas. Only 16% of the population claims to have a power nap after lunch every day. There’s also 22% of people who have siesta just once in a while. So, is Spanish siesta slowly disappearing from the Spanish way of life?
Well, even though it is true that it'snot as frequent or as popular as it was 40 years ago, it is still a pretty common thing among some groups of the population. I would say it is still a usual practice in small towns, among many government workers (who normally work from 8 am to 3 pm), for many elderly people and for children. Siesta is also much more frequent during the summertime and on the weekends.
There are several factors why fewer people are having siesta nowadays in Spain. In general, it is not that fewer Spaniards like siesta these days, but fewer people can have the privilege of napping in the middle of the day on a daily basis.
In the last 40 years, Spain has become a developed modern country and, as part of this process, it has had to adapt its working hours to compete in a globalized world. Also, the growing presence of international companies in Spain has a lot to do with this change. It is not rare for a Spaniard working in an office to have a 9 to 6 schedule, or 2 to 10 if working in a mall or franchise store. When I was at university, I used to have classes from 11 am to 6 or 7 pm. In all these cases, as you can imagine, it is not possible to have siesta (unless you decide to nap on your desk in the middle of the office).
However, in smaller cities (or even in less central areas in big cities, like Barcelona or Madrid) there’s a lot of stores that keep the traditional Spanish opening hours: from 9 am to 2 pm and from 5 pm to 8 pm (with a 3 hour-siesta break in the middle).
As you can see, siesta is still present in Spanish society. It is not a myth. However, if you’re looking for a very relaxed environment where life stops completely for siesta time, you should opt for a small town or village. I guarantee you won’t see anyone walking on the streets from 3 to 5. They are all enjoying a pleasing siesta, even though (as the article "Sex and the siesta: Some traditions don't change" claims), not all of them are sleeping.
How you ever been to Spain? How was your experience with this whole topic? Did you have the impression that it is still a very common thing? Share your opinions with us on our blog! And if you want to learn more about Spanish culture, our Spanish native teachers can help a lot! Try one of our Skype Spanish Lessons to see how our lessons work!
Featured image photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/resaka/8998605213/">Ricardo Alguacil</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>