Spain Debates: Is It Time To Scrap The Siesta? : Parallels Spain's prime minister says it's time to end the midafternoon break and move to a more 9-to-5 workday. But many Spaniards say the siesta is an outdated stereotype that's no longer part of daily life.
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Spain Debates: Is It Time To Scrap The Siesta?

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Spain Debates: Is It Time To Scrap The Siesta?

Spain Debates: Is It Time To Scrap The Siesta?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/473231722/473279722" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A suggestion that Spain should drop its siesta the country's famous afternoon nap has left many Spaniards upset not about losing a tradition that's dying out anyway, but because many foreign media outlets use the story to reinforce a stereotype about Spain. Lauren Frayer reports from the country's not so sleepy capital, Madrid.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Every day at 2 p.m., Antonio Davila pulls the metal shutters down over the front of his computer repair shop in central Madrid. He heads home for lunch, picks up his kids at school and then goes back to work from 5 to 9 p.m.. He's originally from Peru and says Spanish hours took some getting used to.

ANTONIO DAVILA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: The sun sets later here and that affects people's habits, he says. I open my shop around 10:30 a.m., close in the afternoon and then stay open later at night. The sun does set later in Spain ever since dictator Francisco Franco put the country on Central European time in solidarity with Nazi Germany. And the mid-afternoon break made sense when Spain was mostly agricultural and it was too hot to work outdoors. But last weekend, acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said it's time to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARIANO RAJOY: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: Scrap the mid-afternoon break and have everyone finish work at 6 p.m. he said. He also wants to change Spain's time zone to match that of Britain and Portugal, countries on roughly the same longitude.

Rajoy's speech barely made news here, but foreign newspaper headlines proclaimed the end of the siesta and ran stock photos of fat guys or even bullfighters sleeping on benches.

MATTHEW BENNETT: A big, fat, lazy slob sleeping a siesta. It was an offensive image, I suppose, but it was an image that people outside of Spain have of Spain.

FRAYER: Matthew Bennett editor of the website the Spain Report has been fielding calls all week from foreign journalists. Talking to me via Skype from his home in southeast Spain, he says hardly anyone sleeps during siesta. They run errands, have lunch or work straight through and then still don't get home until 8 or 9 p.m.

BENNETT: They kind of idealize European working hours. And say, OK, my goodness, if we finished at 5 or 6, we could have like three hours off in every evening to do other stuff that's not work.

FRAYER: In a Madrid cafe that does not close midday, I meet up with Yolanda Martin, a flamenco expert and guide - yes, Flamenco. I warned you; this story is about stereotypes.

YOLANDA MARTIN: I guess there is like an element of truth in all of these. Yes, there is flamenco in Spain. Yes, we used to have siestas before maybe more kind of in rural areas, you know, to escape from the heat and stuff. But yeah, no longer really.

FRAYER: At 32, Martin is part of a Spanish generation that survived economic crisis and is now working long hours - if they have jobs at all - for less pay than in most of Western Europe. But she says the stereotype of Spain is something Spaniards themselves have created.

MARTIN: They kind of sold this idea of, you know, you want sun, you want beach, come to Spain, you know - you're going to get all of that. So I think that we did kind of exploit that and so that maybe has brought money. But at the same time, we're not kind of portrayed as a serious country, you know? We're like lazy. It's kind of racist.

FRAYER: Polls show most Spaniards would prefer to work 9 to 5. But Prime Minister Rajoy might not be the one to make the change. His rivals could take power this summer, and then he'd be able to take as long of a siesta as he likes. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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