Finding shops closed for two to three hours every afternoon, and restaurants closed for a similar period a little later, is just part of the culture differences we have found since arriving in Spain on Sunday. It’s all about the tradition of siesta, that long afternoon break that became established to avoid the heat of the afternoon sun.
There are two periods of siesta in Spain – siesta for shops and businesses, during which time many people go to a bar or restaurant, and then siesta for the restaurants, who obviously can’t rest when everyone wants to come and eat. In towns and villages near where Lisa and I now live, shops close at about 2pm until between 4 and 5pm while restaurants tend to not serve food between 5 and 8pm.
Spain is a hot country, especially in mid-afternoon, and the traditional reason for the siesta is for the workers in the fields to shelter from the heat. They would then feel refreshed after their sleep and would work until quite late in the evening, longer than they would have been able to without the siesta.
A typical shop’s opening times here are 9am until 2pm and 5pm until 8.30pm – in total, longer than working from 9am to 5.30pm, less a lunch break, which is more traditional in other countries.
Some people ask why, since the introduction of air conditioning, the Spanish stop for siesta. Well, people do still work in the fields, in fact we some doing just that today, but the main reason seems to be that the Spanish like to have a long lunch.
Added to that, why should a shop remain at a time when there are so few people out shopping. On Wednesday, Lisa and I went out for lunch during sopen hop siesta time and were amazed by town streets free of pedestrians. Those that were out and about could be found seated in or outside cafes and bars.
Another reason for the stop for siesta may not so much one of need but one of want. Some, who may like to go out in the evening like stopping for a while at lunch time. A little rest after the siesta meal will help them to stay up later in the evening without falling asleep.
The Spanish nightlife is an all-night affair – visitors to Spain are surprised to see the streets just starting to fill up at midnight and are even more surprised to see people in their 60s and 70s still out at 3am. They wouldn’t be able to do this without a siesta.
Meal times also need an adjustment when moving to live in Spain. After a smallish breakfast, the largest meal of the day is lunch – which is traditionally eaten during the afternoon siesta. With lunch finished by about 3.30pm, dinner is often not eaten until after 9pm. Indeed, when arriving at a bar/restaurant a couple of days ago at 7.30pm, we were told that the kitchen was closed but would be open at 8pm.
We decided to enjoy sangria while we waited; it was well worth it.