September 21, 2011

Note to Americans: Nobody really takes a siesta anymore

So every time I have guests visit or I talk with an American exchange student settling into Spanish life, they always go on about how "cute" it is (or annoying) that shops close midday for "siesta," the famous after lunch nap that Spaniards are renowned for. Well, note to all Americans, few Spaniards actually take the afternoon siesta anymore. The shops are closed for lunch, not for naps.

This myth of a ubiquitous siesta culture is long out of date, and probably has legs for how it fits with the stereotypes of warm weather people as lazy or Spaniards as indulgently laid back. One Spanish blogger includes it among a long list of urban legends which circulate about Spaniards abroad. Personally, so far as I can tell, with the possible exception of my father-in-law the only Spaniards I know who take a siesta ("tomar la siesta") only do so when they are on vacation, or on the weekends, or if they are retired. But otherwise, hardworking Spaniards don't have time for afternoon naps, and they don't take them.

van Gogh's Siesta, 1890
Of course, maybe they should. I can't figure out how Spaniards get enough sleep. They wake up at 7AM, on average, but don't go to bed until midnight or 1AM or even later during the work week. Indeed, studies here in Spain increasingly suggest that the average Spaniard is underslept, even averaging an hour less than most Europeans. Meanwhile more and more sleep studies abroad are showing that a brief afternoon siesta is exactly what us modern sleep-deprived people need to improve alertness, be smarter, and gain all kinds of other positive health benefits.

Alas, even if Spaniards ought to take a siesta, like most other members of modern, workaholic societies they do not.


Mike Powell said...

Heh! This is unfortunately true. I got into the habit of siesta-taking immediately after moving to Spain. Finally an excuse for a post-lunch doze! By the time I had met enough Spaniards to realize that they're not all that common, I was already hooked. Now, you'd only be able to pry my siesta from my cold, dead hands.

An Expat in Spain said...

Ha! No kidding! Maybe expats can teach Spaniards something. While I don't know many Spaniards who siesta, I do know plenty of expats living here who keep the tradition alive.

I also suspect taking siesta was more common before everyone got A/C. It is hard to accomplish anything, except taking a nap that is, at 4PM on a hot summer day.

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