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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This time of year can be very hard to drag yourself out of bed on a cold, dark morning. Might even feel more difficult in places far north, like Yellowknife or Scandinavia. You wouldn't think it would be such a problem in sunny Spain, but it is and that's due to a fluke of history. From Madrid, Lauren Frayer reports.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: 1940, World War II, Nazi Germany occupied Norway, Holland, Belgium, then France. Fascist Italy had already joined Hitler. The Fuhrer wanted Spain's support next, so he took a train to the Spanish border to woe Spain's fascist dictator, Francisco Franco.

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FRAYER: But Spain lay in ruins from its own civil war in the 1930s and Franco didn't have much to offer. He stayed neutral, but switched Spain's clocks ahead one hour to be in line with Nazi Germany. Ever since, even though Spain is geographically in line with Britain, Portugal and Morocco, its clocks are on the same time zone as countries as far as east as Poland and Hungary.

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FRAYER: Spaniards are notoriously late night creatures. Flamenco shows like this one start at midnight. The sun rises and sets much later here than in the rest of the time zone. Spaniards sleep 53 minutes less on average than other Europeans, and they work longer hours, but at lower productivity.

EMILIO SAINZ: Here you work too many hours but you need to stop in the middle day for two or three hours, and then finish too late. It's something cultural.

FRAYER: Freelance cameraman, Emilio Sainz, mills around a Madrid office park waiting for his bosses to finish their long lunch. He just moved back to his native Spain from Britain and is having trouble adjusting. He doesn't like working until 8 p.m. with a big break midday. I ask him how his colleagues fill that time.

SAINZ: They go back home, take a big lunch. The siesta is optional but if you have time you can do it.

FRAYER: Before air conditioning, that siesta was a way to get through the long, hot Spanish afternoon. Even now in my Madrid barrio, you can't get a cup of coffee before 9 a.m. and the post office is open until 9 p.m. Of course you'll have to wait even later than that for restaurants to even start serving dinner. Economists say Spain's time zone encourages that late schedule and costs the country dearly.

NURIA CHINCHILLA: We have no time for personal life, therefore we are committing suicide here in Spain. We have just 1.3 children per woman. And it's because we have no time.

FRAYER: Economist Nuria Chinchilla is an expert on work and family life. She's lobbying for Spain to set its clocks back an hour, also because of the bad economy.

CHINCHILLA: In the crisis, we also have seen that the companies that are more flexible, that have more rational schedules, they are more productive too and they are able to be more flexible in the way they are going out of the crisis.

FRAYER: But flexibility won't come easy, says cameraman Emilio Sainz.

SAINZ: The problem is not the change of the time. The problem is change of mentality of the Spanish behavior.

FRAYER: A parliamentary committee approved the time change this fall. The full legislature plans to vote by the end of the year when days are darkest. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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