The Spanish Language Blog

The Spanish schedule is a point of contention which gets noticed in international circles every once in a while. Why do Spaniards go to work at around 9 a.m. and leave as late as 8:00 p.m.?

It's difficult to say, and more so when many of us agree with the critics, and hope for more rational schedules in the future while we read publications like that of the Asociación para la Racionalización de los Horarios Españoles (Association for the rationalization of the Spanish schedules).

A quick way to explain our mismatched schedule is to look back in history. During the Spanish Civil War, and because Spain formed an alliance with Germany and Italy, the rebel side adopted the time zone GMT + 1. What was meant to be a temporary change during wartime stayed put once the conflict ended; meaning today in Madrid  we use the same time as Berlin when geographically we should be using London's time. 

Another factor in the hours we work came post-war. After the war many people had to work more than one job just to survive. That meant finishing one job and starting another right away. Many Spaniards at the time got home practically at dinner time (around 9:30 p.m. in Spain). Today there are not so many people that work multiple jobs to stay afloat, but the long work day culture has prevailed. And this has conditioned much of what is called "post-work" life: restaurants that open at 9:00 p.m., prime time television that starts at 10:00 p.m., bedtimes that start around midnight or later...

Once we know the history it seems like it would be easy to break the habit. But it's not so easy after all. There are many opinions on the subject, but we could summarize them into two big categories: people who think it's necessary, and even more so nowadays, to restructure the schedule; and those who think it's something so ingrained in our culture that any change would cause more chaos than good. Some take exemplary countries like Germany or Sweden into consideration, to which others respond that in Spain, neither the weather, the climate nor the character of the people is the same as in those countries. Others say the schedules is typically Mediterranean, to which others respond that in Italy people go to work at 8:00 a.m. and leave at 6:00 p.m. and that they even have an hour for lunch!

The discussion, at this point, and especially if we were in a bar, would probably lead to "socio-economic" factors: in a country in which the restaurant and hospitality industry is a pillar of the economy, would the famous "menu of the day" and all of the benefits associated with it cease to exist if we only had half an hour for lunch? Conversely, would bars have more clientele if people had more "after-work" hours to enjoy? Many proponents of changing the schedule will tell us that it is precisely the leisure and culture sectors that would benefit the most. Imagine going to the movies on a Tuesday or visiting a museum on a weekday without all the crowds!

But leaving controversy aside, the truth is that more and more people worry about this issue every day. With the current Spanish schedule it is difficult to harmonize work life with family life. Many parents are forced to push their children into Spanish "office hours" with school and then extracurricular activities, because they don't have time to take care of them themselves. In the past, this wasn't as much of a problem because more mothers stayed home or grandparents cared for children during office hours. But since people have begun to move farther from their families and nowadays many grandparents are still working themselves, many people really feel the need for change.

We finish this article without a clear conclusion. Will we will we be able to solve the Spanish schedule problem and make everyone happy one day? Only time, and schedules, will tell.


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