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In a move to increase efficiency, Spain reconsiders siestas, time zone

Story by Kelsey Luing

MADRID – It’s 2 p.m. on a Monday and downtown Madrid is bustling. Located less than a mile from the center of the city, the Street of Hilarión Eslava is a blur of coffee shops, cheap restaurants, lively conversation and the hum of passing cars. A man on a moped honks repeatedly at the pedestrian in front of him, shaking his finger as he continues on his route.

Local shopkeeper Abdón Bermejo, 63, chuckles at the commotion. Despite all the excitement around him, he affixes a clock to the front of his grocery store, Gourmet de la Alimentación, and slips away to the nearby neighborhood of Sagonia for a home-cooked meal and a nap.

“Here in Spain, the tradition is to have a siesta,” he said through a translator. “You need a few hours of food and relaxation before you face the rest of your day.”

Abdón Bermejo takes care of a final customer before embarking on his 15-minute trek to the neighborhood of Sagonia. Once there, he looks forward to a leisurely lunch and nap.

Abdón Bermejo takes care of a final customer before closing down his store for the afternoon to head home for lunch and his nap. Photo by Kelsey Luing.

For as long as Bermejo can remember, his country has been one of late lunches and split workdays. The Spanish tradition of the siesta, a mid-afternoon break between the hours of 2 and 4 or 5, is one he’s followed all his life. But, in the midst of an economic downturn, a parliamentary commission is advocating for Spaniards to adopt a more conventional schedule in an effort to increase productivity. The initiative is also designed to push Spain closer to its neighbors, such as Portugal and the United Kingdom, located in Greenwich Mean Time.

The committee’s proposals, which call for an abbreviated 9 to 5 workday and a 40-minute interval for lunch, would symbolize a fundamental shift in Spanish culture.

“Spain has some of the longest working hours in Europe, but its productivity [level] is among the lowest in the region,” said Ignacio Buqueras, president of the Association for the Rationalization of Spanish Working Hours. “We are fighting to change this culture of presentismo – or working too long without anything to show for it – and bring Spain in line with the rest of Europe.”

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Spain’s declining birth rate equals “a demographic winter,” say experts

Story by Olivia Sears

MADRID- A temporary security guard at a tire company, María del Valle Soto waited years to achieve the financial stability she felt she needed before starting a family. She put off having children to earn her degree in sociology from the University of Basque Country. Then, she wanted to find a stable job and eventually buy a house before she settled down.

Now 41, Valle Soto and her boyfriend, José Miguel Solas, 28, have no kids, are renting an apartment and work odd jobs to pay their bills. She feels she waited too long and that the chance to be a mother has slipped away.

“I was waiting for stability, and I never got to that point,” she said through a translator. “Now I am too old and realize I will never have children.”

Following the trend across the European Union, Valle Soto and an increasing number of women in Spain have decided against starting families, or, they are having fewer children. As a result, it is the only country in Europe projected to see a decline in population in upcoming years, which means its already-struggling economy will get worse, experts say, because there won’t be enough people to fill critical jobs.

Alejandro Macarrón, the general director and economic consultant for Demographic Renaissance, calls it a “demographic winter.” “In this type of society, democracy will be dominated by the elderly,” he said. His nonprofit organization, based in Madrid, seeks to raise awareness about the consequences of low birth rates and aging populations.

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