May 4, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Traditions

Ah yes, we all know about the beloved Spanish siesta! If only I had a nickel for every time someone told me they were jealous that I live in Spain because I get to take siestas. I suppose that I would be jealous too if that were really the case.

The concept of the Spanish siesta seems to get perpetuated by the fact that small mom-and-pop shops continue to close during the afternoon hours between 2:00 and 5:00. But I hate to break it to you, very few people actually go on an afternoon break to take a nap. In fact, I’ve never even heard of one person doing so. They only take lunch here in Spain, just like the rest of us (although, indeed a little bit longer – usually from 2:00-4:00).

So where did this Spanish siesta concept come from? Are the Spaniards just too lazy to work through the day? No, this is not the case. The tradition in fact began for several likely reasons. The first is rather obvious – in order to rejuvenate workers by allowing them some time to rest and be with their families. In addition to this, during the Spanish Civil War poverty apparently required Spaniards to take two jobs, or work double shifts, therefore requiring extra rest during the middle of day. Another reason results from the fact that it gets so darn hot here in Spain that during the peak hours of heat, between 2:00 and 5:00, people would rest so that they could then work later in the day during cooler hours. Lastly, given that the the largest meal of the day here is typically lunch, the tradition of a siesta after lunch isn’t entirely surprising. Regardless of where the siesta originated, however, I’m afraid it’s pretty much on its way to extinction (although, I’m not opposed to trying to resurrect the concept!!).

So I’m glad that we now have that settled. While we’re at it, let’s just clarify a couple of other small little myths. First, hardly anyone here actually drinks Sangria with much frequency. I know you Americans love it, but I think you might be the only ones. It’s served here, but mostly for tourists. Also, while we all love paella, unless you live in Valencia (where it is their specialty), it’s just not a staple in the Spaniard’s diet. So enjoy your siestas, sangria and paella, but know that they’re a lot less mainstream for Spaniards than you once may have thought.

10 Responses to “The Spanish siesta: truth or fiction?”

  1. Tito Says:

    Biggest truth ever !!!

    I simply don’t understand why they don’t let me sleep at work… my performance would improve notably…. 😉

  2. Erin Says:

    I think we should start a siesta revolution – you know, get signs and start a Spanish-style manifestación in front of our offices. Brilliant plan, right?

  3. Isabel Says:

    HI! Nice entry!

    About the siesta issue I have to admit that in towns in south Spain siesta does exist during summer period. But when you are at 42 degrees it’s unhealthy to be outside. So usually people stays indoors from 1 till 6. On the other hand i have to admit that in the south of Spain people usually starts to work earlier than in the north…

    By the way, if I have to choose I prefer French-style manifestación.


  4. Erin Says:

    Well, I’ve always loved Southern Spain…so perhaps we should all just move there then! No manifestaciones needed!

  5. Status Viatoris Says:

    Hi Erin! I have just stumbled across your blog, and it’s bringing back a lot of memories. I lived in Spain for eight years before moving to France (I’m in Italy now…) and I still look back with nostalgia. I’ll be keeping a close eye on La Tortuga Viajera to get my Spanish fix!

  6. Erin Says:

    I am so glad that I can bring a little bit of Spain to you!! As you must already know, I’m very lucky to consider this country my “playground.” I’m just checking out your blog now – I’ll be following you as well! Un saludo!

  7. Patrcia Says:

    I don’t quite agree with this. I am from Spain. From Valencia actually and I have to say that even though during teh weekdays people usually doesn’t take siestas, you will often find people that takes siestas on Saturdays and Sundays and old people does even during the week days.

    If there is a celebration in my family my dad will make sangria for the whole family to have during our meal (besides for the kids) and if I go with friends on a Friday night to have dinner before we go to a club we usually order ” una jarra de sangria”

    I have to say that you are right about Paella. In my house my grandma cooks one every Sunday when we get together but the Paella I tried in the rest of Spain are definitely not very good.

    I have to say that I like your blog very much but Spain is a country of many traditions and I love that about my country so I really wish we don’t lose them. You live in a big city but if you ask around the small cities or towns you will find that people still keep many of those traditions.


  8. Erin Says:

    You are so right about the traditions here – that’s what I love about Spain!!! So many traditions still exist, especially in the small pueblos. It fascinates me, and I too hope that they continue.

    The funny thing about siestas is that we Americans often take them on the weekends too – so the siesta that actually has everyone in a tizzy is the “entre semana” siesta :). Sure some folks out in the pueblos may take siestas in the middle of the week (probably in the US too, actually), but in urban areas it’s pretty uncommon – so that’s the myth that I’m debunking here.

    As for Sangria, I do think it’s fair to say that it’s not very common relative to the American expectation. Americans come here thinking that it’s something Spaniards drink regularly like water, and that every bar and restaurant serves it up, when in reality, it’s something you don’t often come by. That’s not to say, however, that it doesn’t exist of course. I’ve had it served to me here before…..but only once in four years. But perhaps it’s more common out in Valencia? Hmmm.

  9. ctrl+alt+supr Says:

    As a Spaniard, a Catalan one, thanks to clarify to the rest of the world all these silly stereotypes about Spanish culture XD

    Btw, congratulations for your blog, I’m really hungry right now hahaha

    Greetings from Barcelona

  10. Javier Says:

    As a Spaniard who gets asked how many siestas I take every day I really appreciate your blog. I wonder where all this fuzz about siesta originated. It’s really annoying. Today I got asked if the crisis in Spain is due to the fact we are very lazy and take many siestas. No wonder Spaniards stay in Spain and don’t move to other places. We can all understand how a stereotype can be said as a joke (i.e. make mafia jokes about Italians) but it perplexes me how people actually believe Spaniards take siestas every day. I know nobody who does this. I guess we’re just easy to make fun of. But I suspect there is some vanity underlying this too. Oh look, these lazy southern Europeans! hahaha… we’re so good

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