What exactly happens during Sobremesa in Spain

No more long siesta

The Spaniards are considered to be the most tired people in Europe. They eat late, work too unproductively. More and more of them would like to change the rhythm - and preferably change the time zone right away.

When northern and central Europeans go on vacation to Spain, they find the southern way of life wonderfully crazy. The long break at noon, well after dark the children are still jumping around outside, tomorrow just «mañana», tomorrow, leave it alone. The only problem is: Many Spaniards themselves find their life less and less wonderful, but increasingly crazy. Studies show: Nowhere in Europe is there so little sleep as in Spain. The traditional siesta is also to blame, of all things. Because hardly anyone does them anymore, but the long breaks are still the same. Noon here means from 2 p.m. Gladly also later.

The “Por Sant”, a corner bar in downtown Barcelona, ​​is full at this time. Carlos Capo, 43, is one of the regular customers; the waiter pushes the clipboard with the “menú del día” over it. Starter, main course, dessert or coffee, plus bread and a drink for an astonishingly cheap 12 euros 90. Everyone can order the menu of the day here. Always. Carlos opts for peas with artichokes and ham, with a beer, then “solomillo” with mushroom sauce, and finally “crema catalana”. He could also have had the «calçots», Catalan spring onions, and stockfish in tomato. The question remains the same: How exactly should you continue working after such a sumptuous meal? "Not at all at first," says Carlos and shrugs his shoulders. "In most offices nothing happens before 4:00 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. anyway." Carlos is independent, he can divide his time freely, but he doesn't even think about shortening the sacred break. "Comer bien" is what the Spaniards call it, and whoever has been to "really eat lunch" then also understands why many don't come home before 8 p.m., eat at 10 p.m. and go to bed late at the end of the day even though they start working again at 9 the next morning.

Dictator Franco is to blame

«We're hopelessly behind. In every way », complains José Luis Casero, chairman of the Association for a Rationalization of Daily Routines (ARHOE) in Madrid. His declared goal: Out of the Central European time zone, towards Greenwich Mean Time, named after the observatory in the London borough of the same name, through which the prime meridian runs. «Galicia is further west than Northern Ireland, but we follow the same time as Berlin. That's absurd, ”says Casero. In his opinion, the problem with the late rhythm is not that the clocks go differently in the south, as they say. "They just go wrong in Spain."

Because originally the country had the same time as Great Britain, it was not changed until 1940. Legend has it that the dictator Franco wanted to be in no way inferior to Hitler. The Portuguese, who had also switched time zones, returned to the old days after the war, not Spain. Since then everything has shifted: Now the Spaniards often sit at breakfast when it is still dark outside, make late noon because the sun is at its highest around 2 p.m., and prime time begins on television when the credits elsewhere in Europe of the film flickers across the screen: at 10 p.m. Almost a quarter of Spaniards watch TV between midnight and 1 a.m. The next day everyone is overtired. The daily newspaper “El País” once wrote that the metro in the morning between 8 and 9 is “a moving dormitory”.

It is well known that such a biorhythm is not healthy. Mind and body come to rest too late and too little. Spain has the highest drug consumption in the EU, including sleeping pills.

The daily newspaper “El País” once wrote that the metro in the morning between 8 and 9 is “a moving dormitory”.

Last year there was a campaign in Madrid about why children and adults "need to sleep well to live their dreams during the day". According to a study by the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, the Spanish work a lot, but in comparison they do not do more than other Europeans. An adjustment of the time and the processes could increase the productivity of the country significantly, it is said. "If Spain ever wants to get out of the crisis, we urgently need to change something," said Casero. In the last election two years ago, the socialists and the liberal Ciudadanos had written the "return to Greenwich" in their party programs. The re-elected conservatives around Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wanted to discuss it at least in parliament. Casero had even met Rajoy briefly. "Nothing has happened since then," he says. Almost symbolic: the unproductive nation.

“We finally have to wake up!” Says Sonia Gutiérrez, in her mid-thirties. The clerk with the dark curls used to work in a suburb of Barcelona. Going home to town at lunchtime wasn't worth it. So sometimes she would sit outside for an hour and kill time, earlier she wasn't allowed to go either way. The traditional break with siesta between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. has not been mandatory since 2013, but many employers still adhere to it. Many shops also still close for two to three hours at lunchtime. But the gyms are booming, because exercise is at least one way to make good use of the long break. Many innkeepers complain that only “half a menu” is ordered because people did other things during the mandatory break. “It's an unnecessarily dismembered day,” Gutiérrez complains.

The traditional break with siesta between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. has not been mandatory since 2013, but many employers still adhere to it.

From her already meager salary, the single parent had to pay a babysitter who picked the two children up from school at 5 p.m. until she came home at 7 p.m. Women in particular suffer from the late rhythm, as the study by the University of Madrid shows. “No wonder the Spaniards have so few children,” says Gutiérrez. The birth rate here is among the lowest in Europe. The clerk now works for a startup at the port and does “jornada intensiva”: She starts early, around 7:30 am, only takes a short break and ends at 3:15 pm. "Then you automatically fall into bed earlier."

Fear of socializing

So why not just change the clocks? On to new times! The old customs still come from a rural Spain, where in the oppressive midday heat there was actually no thought of shaking hands. The siesta seemed like the best option. But now the air conditioning is buzzing across the board in the offices, in the more northerly areas like Barcelona it only gets really warm during the summer months anyway. And in the past the whole family would sit at the table at lunchtime. Now both parents work and the children eat at school. “We didn't have lunch together - but there is no evening together either,” says Casero. His association ARHOE has been organizing the “How much time do you have for me?” Campaign for several years. A competition in schools where the little ones draw what they would do with their parents if they came home early. The older ones make interviews with mother and father the topic. “The work speaks volumes,” says Casero, who has children himself and is a freelancer. For some, it's just enough for a goodnight kiss. Or the children went to bed much too late because their parents came home so late. The current daily routine is poison for families.

So what's the problem? The common counter-argument in politics has always been that European domestic trade can be handled more easily if everyone has the same time. On the other hand, there was always an hour of difference between London and the rest of the EU, and that was the least of the problems in international relations. It is more likely that old habits are to blame for holding onto the old days. In surveys, 80 percent of Spaniards say they would like to go home earlier - but only around half of them would like to change their meal times.

“The rhythm is in our blood,” says Carlos Capo. He also has a family, small children, his wife does the intensive program until the afternoon, but he brings the children to school in the morning. He wouldn't change anything. "There's nothing more depressing for me than sitting at my desk with a sandwich," he says. “For most of them, food simply has another status. You take your time for it. " You meet friends, family or business partners, you eat and talk. And talk and talk. “Sobremesa” is a word that only exists in Spanish: the table conversation that continues even after the table has long been cleared.