Sunday, June 7, 2009

Spanish Siestas

Ask someone to say one word when they think of Spain, and chances are it'll be "Siesta."  In fact every time I go back to the states, friends and family always ask me if the Spanish really take a snooze for lunch, and the look of disappointment on their faces when I tell them - "No" - betrays how ingrained of a myth it is.  The thought of escaping work for a quick shut-eye appeals to our romantic vision of Spain as a place where people take life at a more relaxing pace than they do in the states, and in many ways they do.  But, the truth of the matter is: Spaniards work on average 14% more than the rest of Europe so they don't have time to nap; although, given their production is the lowest, the more hours doesn't mean they necessarily work well.

The siesta is far from dead, however. "The mentality of it" (as I heard a Spanish expert describe it once) is still very much alive and  part of the country's psyche.  Originally born as a way to escape the blistering afternoon sun, it is more now about finding the time during a busy week to rest, relax and recharge.  It usually takes place on the weekends during the sobremesa (the time immediately after another Spanish tradition, a long, three-course weekend lunch) when all of your blood rushes to your stuffed belly and your head goes drowsy.  Eying the couch, all the programs on the television are documentaries about the ocean or bad B-movies, and it's easy to drift to sleep as you lay down, settle in and close your heavy eyes.

It doesn't need to be a long nap.  A shot of coffee with milk called a cortado before will ensure waking up thirty minutes later when the caffeine kicks in.  But if it's been a particularly draining week, then just let your brain and body shut down and start back up when it's ready, whether it's one or two hours later. With all the shops and stores closed during the late afternoon - you're not missing anything, and by the time you wake up, you'll feel refreshed and energized and ready for the night.  But even during the week, the siesta is never far from the Spaniards' thoughts, and it's not uncommon for a conversation to revolve around its benefits, while taking one of two thirty minute coffee breaks, showing that you don't need to sleep to apply the mentality behind it.

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