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26 February 2014

The end of the siesta 

Spain’s long, late lunches and 10 p.m. dinners have been a big part of the nation’s charm for decades, but they could soon be history.

As the country struggles to recover from its debt crisis, some Spaniards believe that one key to improving productivity is to better align Spain’s workday with the rest of Europe.

A quirk of history put Spain on Berlin time when it really belongs in London’s time zone (like its Iberian neighbor Portugal). During World War II, dictator Francisco Franco ordered the nation’s clocks aligned with those of Germany, whose military backing helped him win the Spanish Civil War. Spain became a democracy after Franco’s death in 1975, but its synchronization with central Europe survives to this day.

After the implosion of its housing market, Spain is looking for new ways to improve its competitive edge. Last September, a parliamentary committee recommended that the nation move its clocks back by one hour and enforce a workday closer to the 9-to-5 European standard, although to date the proposal has not been acted upon.

The idea would fundamentally reshape the rhythms of Spanish lifestyle. Spaniards have become so accustomed to a late-night culture that a quarter of the nation’s population typically watches TV after midnight.

Though the Spanish siesta is largely a cultural myth, many Spaniards take a lunch break between 2 and 4 p.m. and stay at work till 8 p.m. or later. Critics say this schedule hurts women’s work prospects because many have to go home earlier to take care of children.

Spain’s challenges run deeper than its time zone or workday, but it is a welcome sign that the nation’s leaders are ready to rethink long-established pillars of its working culture. Saying goodnight an hour earlier seems like a small price to pay.