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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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