The siesta, like the fiesta, is too deeply embedded in the Spanish psyche. But how about the hectic lifestyle that the Spaniards have had to embrace, reluctantly, these recent years and which leaves very little room for the midday nap?
By Rose Maramba
The siesta is generally accepted as Spain’s definitive custom. The underlying reason being that a people who loves to have a good time (fiestas) must know when to momentarily quit in order to be able to pick up the pace again, fresh as you please; you just can’t keep the passion for fiestas burning day and night unless you have a recess somewhere in the middle.
There was a time when from 2:00 to 5:00 Spain did nothing but catch forty winks – but that seems in the distant past.
And yet not so very long ago a group of British tourists walked up at noon to the Plaza Mayor in Madrid to shop for souvenirs and exclaimed: “But everything’s closed!”
Well, it was siesta time!
The 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. shut-down was actually a lunch plus siesta break. Even now the Spaniards would not be hurried on over their mid-day meal – copious to be sure – which should end up in a siesta unless the Fates conspired against it.
There’s a consensus that the ideal duration of siesta is under half hour. More than that and one gets sleep fatigue. Or “sleep inertia”, a muzzy post-siesta state of mind that makes you feel even more sluggish than before. Besides, a too long and deep sleep in the middle of the day can cause insomnia when the night comes.
When taken moderately the siesta has been found by many studies, including NASA’s, to increase cognitive skills, sharpen memory, increase efficiency at work and, because it lowers the level of stress, it is good for the heart. The siesta-loving Spaniards were therefore on the right track.
Unfortunately, the Spanish government deregulated the commercial hours in 2004, in accordance with Law 1/2004 of December 21 whose scope was broadened by the Royal Decree 20/2012 of July 13. This resulted in an ever increasing number of commercial establishments opening non-stop from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and even beyond.
The Comunidad de Madrid was the first to take advantage of the deregulation which, by 2012, allowed the establishments to open every single day of the year if they wanted to, at times of their choice. Barcelona, on the other hand, balked at such a barbaric schedule that, it was feared, threatened the very survival of the vulnerable shorthanded small businesses. But in the end the opportunities offered by the law won Barcelona over.
Foregoing the midday closure – and thus the siesta – allowed the shop owners to induce office employees to shop during their lunch break, and to accommodate the tourists who just couldn’t waste precious time off of their holidays waiting for the shops to snap out of the “self-indulgent” forty winks.
So has the Spanish siesta been obsolesced by the more hectic lifestyle that the Spaniards have had to embrace, reluctantly, these recent years? Not quite. The siesta, like the fiesta, is too deeply embedded in the Spanish psyche.
During the cold months, from fall to spring, many of the españoles would still steal a few minutes to doze off if they could. More importantly, in summer there’s almost no passing up a siesta so that napping is quite widespread.
In summer almost every office is on horario intensivo (intensive office hours) which lasts unbroken until 3:00 p.m. only. You can be sure the employees won’t rush from work to the shops given that there’s enough time to do it later. They’ll lunch leisurely first, savoring every morsel of each dish and every sip of a rioja when not a ribera del duero to their heart’s content.
When they’re finally done with their harmless little bacchanalia it’s next to impossible not to nod off. The soporific heat of summer will clinch it even if they’re in an airconditioned room where the stultifying heat can’t reach them. Just the thought of the heat outside is enough to keep them indoors, where the bed beckons irresistibly, till it slackens off late in the afternoon.
Incidentally, some of the studies say the better place to take your siesta is the sofa – not the bed.
IMAGES: PD except Gran Via by Rifleman 82 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Rifleman_82). CC BY-SA 3.0
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