‘A quien madruga, Díos le ayuda’ is how Spaniards say ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’, and, while many Spaniards are indeed early risers, going to bed early is not a characteristic they are noted for.
And the reason? Basically, Spaniards have been living in the wrong time zone for over 70 years and are doing everything, including going to bed, about an hour after they really ought to!
Even though Spain is on the same longitude as Britain, Portugal and Morocco, Spaniards are on Central European Time (CET) and not Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), like the British, the Portuguese and the Moroccans. This means that when it’s 11pm and body clocks think it’s time to hit the sack in London, Lisbon and Rabat, Spaniards going to bed at the exact same time find it’s already midnight in Madrid.
But it hasn’t always been so. In fact, Spaniards were living in the same geographic time zone as Londoners until 1940, when General Franco changed the country to CET to synchronise with the German economy. As a result, Spaniards who would eat at 1pm or 1.30pm continued to eat at their usual time (now 2pm or 2.30pm), continued to have dinner at 8pm (now 9pm) and continued to go to bed at 11pm (now midnight). However, they now had to be at work by 8am (because that time was now called 9am).
With such early starts and late finishes to their days, is it any wonder that Spaniards have a longer lunch break with enough time for lunch AND a short nap? Of course, as a modern European trading nation, Spain is now reconsidering these long lunch breaks. How much international business is lost when German, British or Dutch buyers phone Spanish suppliers mid-afternoon and get no answer? The Spanish government is considering introducing ‘jornada continua’ (continuous working day) with more standard European working hours and possibly a return to GMT.
However, not everyone likes the idea. After 70 years, habits could be hard to change and the government is meeting opposition from lobby groups representing the tourist industry, among others. On the other hand, The National Commission for the Rationalization of Spanish Working Hours (La Comisión Nacional para la Racionalización de los Horarios Españoles) insists that a return to GMT would mean that sunrise would be an hour earlier, meal times would be an hour earlier and Spaniards would get an extra hour’s sleep. The debate rages on.