A report in today’s El Mundo recommends having a good kip after lunch – known to residents and visitors alike as ‘la siesta nacional’ – or, in modern parlance, the ‘yoga ibérico’. Doctors recommend it for obscure medical reasons, common sense supports it as it keeps you off the street during the worst hours of the hot day and it’s even an institution that is gathering adepts in other countries. One can even read about having ‘a power nap’ in American literature. Just the ticket after a hard morning’s work, a couple of beers and a lunch.
Meanwhile, the European Union is committed to stopping the siesta and many multinational companies are now operating in Spain with a ‘nine to five’ philosophy. They probably make their staff sit on hard wooden chairs as well. The bottom line is always the cash. Spain considers that ‘you work to live’ and the Anglos, stiff with their protestant guilt ethic, say that ‘you live to work’. ‘Arbeit macht frei’, as a German philosopher once put it.
I suppose that the Spanish nine-to-fivers experience rather mixed results from insisting on this calendar as, while they may receive business from abroad after the two o’clock watershed, they won’t get many ‘walk-ins’ during those last hours of their working day. It can be quite a nuisance in Madrid when you wake up after a siesta, shower and then take a taxi to some office clean across town to discover that it shuts at five for the day.
Five is hardly a late hour in a country which rarely goes to bed before midnight.
Indeed, much of Spain’s business is carried out over a beer or a glass of wine, either during the leisurely lunch which helps make living in this country such a pleasure, or during the evening, when the office-workers slip next door to the local cafeteria for a beer and chat, perhaps with a client.
The Spanish say that most deals are made outside the office.
Between this agreeable state of affairs and the burgeoning Anglo presence in the business world, the battle lines are drawn.
Movistar, Telefonica’s mobile phone company, appears to have embraced the European working clock – at least, it has taken to sending me irritating ‘peep peep’ commercial messages round about three in the afternoon when I am usually fast asleep.
Another call around three o’clock yesterday came from some English local newspaper that obviously prefers the British work-schedule, wanting to talk to me about an advert I had placed in The New Entertainer. Not to buy something mind, but to ask if I’d like to advertise with them. For this some sales-girl from the Sol Gazette wakes me up…
It ruined that day’s nap entirely; as I was left wondering who else of my clients she was no doubt waking with her ludicrous sales-patter.
The Spanish siesta is an institution that has worked for hundreds of years and is based on the soundest of experience and principals. Oddly, I recently read somewhere that the siesta was introduced by Franco - probably written by some stringer for the telephone company. After all, if the old bastard invented it, it’s OK to give it the bum’s rush and adopt instead those miserable Anglo hours.
Oddest of all is in the erstwhile Spanish town of Albox, where, now re-christened as ‘All-box’ and taken over by ‘los ingleses’ - the British - business hours there are now strictly ‘nine to five’, with some select places running from just ‘nine to two’. I imagine the surviving hoards of locals, fresh from their siestas, casting around after five o’clock for something to buy, somewhere to go.