To Siesta or Not to Siesta?: My Major Dilemma While Living in Salamanca

April 18, 2014
Living in Salamanca

foreign-correspondent badge final“What do you mean you’ve never taken a siesta?” my friend in the US asked me incredulously. “I thought that was a thing in Spain.”

I am incredibly stressed out while writing this. I am running on five hours of sleep and an oil-tanker load of caffeine. I could really use a siesta, or a traditional Spanish midday nap (or rest) in which people go home from 2-5 pm, only to make up the difference by returning to work from about 5-8 pm.

There are many wonderful aspects of living in Salamanca and my program, but by virtue of being a Spanish major in a full-immersion program, my study abroad experience definitely isn’t the laid-back “cultural experience” that my friends in other programs enjoyed last semester. Our program’s courses are rigorous; although the material is college-level, the classes themselves are structured like high school classes. We often have many small- or medium-sized daily assignments, in addition to readings, projects, and term papers.

The truth is I couldn’t echar una siesta even if I wanted to. The way my afternoon schedule is structured, I return to myseñora’s apartment at 2:15 to eat lunch (remember: lunch is the big meal of the day in Spain and can take 30 minutes to complete, on a fast day). After la comida, I have just enough time to check my email before I trek halfway across the city to get to my afternoon classes.

To Siesta or Not to Siesta?: My Major Dilemma While Living in Salamanca.

Spain’s daily cycle definitely ticks to the beat of its own clock. People rest in the middle of the day, only to be rejuvenated enough to stay up until 1 am or later. Indeed, my señora cooks my dinner at 9 pm, and that’s considered early for Spain. This daily cycle has its roots in WWII, when Spain’s favorite ex-dictator Franco changed the clocks to match Nazi Germany’s schedule. However, Spain’s farmers lived their lives not by clock-time, but rather by nature’s schedule. Even though Spanish society urbanized and changed, people still maintained this schedule. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Spaniards, it’s that they can be stubborn, especially about cultural things.

Maintaining this cultural legacy comes with consequences. Spain’s economy has been suffering for the last four years, and the country has seen unemployment, debt, and unproductivity. For example: in comparison to their German counterparts, Spanish employees spend more time on the job, but complete only 59% of their tasks on a given day. Legislators have suggested multiple times to change Spain’s timetable to mirror the typical Western 9-5 workday. However, many Spanish businesses (and individual people) can’t fathom not taking a three-hour midday break. It is a cultural thing, one that many people are resistant to changing.

It is interesting to note how Spain’s “unique” timetable affects women. According to one survey, men intentionally schedule important meetings in the early evening, so that women, and not themselves, would have to be the ones to return home earlier to begin the “second shift” household responsibilities.

Spanish women tend to take on the majority of gender-specific household responsibilities.

This work-family conflict is a phenomenon that occurs when the demands of one area are incompatible with those of the other. It is characterized by insufficient time to satisfy both conditions, which in turn causes work/family-related stress, anxiety, depression, and dissatisfaction. In general terms, Spain is a collectivist culture that puts more emphasis on family and less emphasis on individualism and independent achievement through employment. In terms of gender roles, men are expected to be the breadwinners and women are expected to be at the center of the family.

Rooted in machismo y marianismo, Spanish women tend to take on the majority of gender-specific household responsibilities. One study found that women experience higher rates of work interfering with family and family interfering with work than men do. So as the research suggests, Spanish women feel stretched thin between all of their obligations. I feel ya, sister.

I think a long midday meal followed by a break is a colossal waste of time.

I think a long midday meal followed by a break is a colossal waste of time. It frustrates me that I have to walk 30 minutes home, spend at least 30 minutes (usually more) eating a gigantic meal I don’t even want to eat, then walk 30 minutes back to campus for class, followed by another 30 minute walk home. That’s two hours out of my day (not including the hour I actually spend in class) completely wasted, and I don’t even get a nap out of it!

If I were in the United States, I would use the two-hour gap between my two classes to grab a quick bite and do some homework. If there’s one thing this type-A chick hates, it’s not making productive use of my time. The reason I stay up so late is because nothing gets done in the afternoons. I would much rather divide up my work evenly so maybe I could get to bed at a reasonable hour.

It’s currently 75 degrees and sunny in Salamanca. I would love to sit out in the Plaza Mayor eating ice cream and reading a book (or taking a nap), but here I am manically scribbling away at my desk trying to complete all of my homework before I leave for the UK for Semana Santa (Spain’s version of spring break). If I manage to survive the next 48 hours, I will be tossing back beers in every pub from Dublin to London.


Calvo-Salguero, A., Salinas Martínez-de-Lecea, J. M., & del Carmen Aguilar-Luzón, M. (2012).  Gender and work–family conflict: Testing the rationalmodel and the gender role expectations model in the Spanish cultural context. International Journal of Psychology, 47, 118–132.

Soares, I. & Joy, O. (2013, October 25). Spain turning back the clock on siestas. CNN. Retreived from

Yardley, J. (2014, February 17). Spain, land of 10 P.M. dinners, asks if it’s time to reset clock.  The New York Times. Retrieved from

Photo by  Ray Gallagher.

About Ray Gallagher

Ray Gallagher, a student at Muhlenberg College, studied abroad at the University of Salamanca in Spain.

One thought on “To Siesta or Not to Siesta?: My Major Dilemma While Living in Salamanca

  1. Sonja
    July 23, 2014

    That’s so true! Even after 10 years in Spain I just can’t adapt to this (from my point of view) absurd structure of the day. Due to the long working hours, even babies have 8 hour or longer days at the daycare center (here in Barcelona nobody can afford to stay at home to look after the kids). Personally I find it kind of cruel, but as your article suggest, more and more companies are thinking about changing their working hours to make things easier for families (and everybody else).

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