Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Thursday, April 7, 2016



Big news from Madrid the week! Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy unveiled a highly controversial plan to legally eliminate the beloved SIESTA. To do so, he proposes trimming the work day by two hours. For those of us who stay awake all day, here are some key points to clarifying this confusing tradition:

ORIGIN OF THE SIESTA. Not surprisingly, folks in sunny Spain have taken a midday snooze since antiquity. Back in the day, the Roman province of Lusitania was always a hubbub of activity. After a long morning of constructing aqueducts, slaves were allowed a break at the 'Sexta hora' and everyone slept. (Roman clocks start at sunrise, so the sixth hour is noon.) Over time, the term evolved into 'Siesta.'

LOCATION OF THE SIESTA. Generally, people in the Mediterranean regions are the most devout followers of the siesta ritual. See, it gets really hot in Sicily during the afternoon...especially outside. (Believe it or not, humankind only recently started working solely in air-conditioned cubicles!) It is simply not efficient to pick olives and grapes in 100° degree heat. Instead, folks take a rest.

IMPACT OF THE SIESTA. OK.. Let's fast forward to present times. To formally include a siesta in a modern society, you need a standardized schedule. In Spain, work begins at 9:00 and stops at 1:30. Banks, stores and businesses then re-open at 4:00 and stay open until 8:00. Things like La Liga matches and Prime-time novellas generally start at 9:00 or 10:00 and often run until 2:00 am! Siestas also impact the cuisine of Spain. Lunch is the largest meal, while dinner consists of tiny tapas.

BENEFITS OF THE SIESTA. Prime Minister Rajoy is quick to point out that Spanish workers are among the less productive in Europe; even behind the Dejeuner-loving French. Establishing a standardized, nine-to-five workday is seen as a major step towards correcting this discrepancy. However, a recent study by a group of physicians called SEMERGEN found that siestas are beneficial. They charge your batteries and lower your blood pressure. NASA agrees. Astronauts take a 26 minute nap while in space.

FUTURE OF THE SIESTA. It looks bleak in Madrid or Barcelona. PM Rajoy needs to show voters he's serious about the change. The Siesta Ban will be passed by Parliament soon and become law. This means no banks or mini-markets will close at midday. It's also likely that Spain will rejoin the UK on Greenwich Mean Time. (Gen. Franco wanted Spain to be on the same time as Nazi Germany and they never changed back). But in the open fields of Andalusia, it's unlikely to change any olive-picker's schedule. After all: "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun!"

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