Not Hemingway's Spain: A typical Spanish day
Is it all siestas and fiestas? Getting used to the typical Spanish day can be a hard transition for expats, particularly the Spanish mealtimes.
Spaniards have a very distinctive schedule in terms of mealtimes and work. The fastest way to get pegged as a foreigner here is to be found eating lunch 'early', at noon or 1.00pm, and dinner at 7.00pm. Spaniards eat _much_ later than in other countries, and to date I have yet to find any other country like it.
Americans who come here always complain that it is too hard to wait until the local lunch or dinner time, but this is because many of them haven't yet figured out that locals actually have _five_ mealtimes, rather than just three. (There is ongoing debate among dieticians over whether five meals a day is healthier than three.) Let me briefly describe the typical Spanish day for those who want to blend in with the locals. If you can learn to adjust to this schedule, you will find that it enormously improves your chances of mixing with locals and experiencing their day-to-day life. After all, you're unlikely to meet anybody eating lunch alone in an empty restaurant at noon.
The work schedule and mealtime is schematically as follows:
~8.00am: El desayuno (Breakfast)
11.00–11:30am: El almuerzo (mid-morning snack)
2.00pm–4.00pm: La comida (Lunch)
~6.00pm: La merienda (optional mid-afternoon snack)
9.00pm+: La cena (Dinner)
This routine varies from job to job, and company to company. Some jobs start at 8.00am and end the day earlier, and most retail shops don't open until 10.00am and close around 8.00–9.00pm. If one ignores the half-hour break for almuerzo, you can see how this schedule adds up to an eight-hour workday, which just ends later than the typical 9-to-5 schedule in the US.
Contrary to popular imagination, the two-hour long lunch is not a result of the siesta. Working Spaniards who take a two-hour lunch usually do so because they eat it at home, and either therefore need the extra time to prepare a home-made lunch or have to commute to and from the office to their homes. However, it is becoming increasingly common for many workers to only take an one-hour lunch, and simply eat in or near the office.
Don't be fooled. At noon Spaniardsaren'teating lunch, but ratheralmuerzo.
A breakfast is usually pretty light fare in Spain, so the almuerzo is a relatively important snack to carry people over until a 2.00–2:30pm lunchtime. (Note: In Madrid, and possibly other regions in Spain, lunch is called almuerzo, and the mid-morning snack is referred to as picoteo or snack.) The almuerzo is also really important office social time. It is quite common for co-workers (compañeros) to leave the office together and go to a nearby bar to eat tapas or a bocadillo (sandwich). Needless to say, this is a time for building office camaraderie and networking.
The merienda, on the other hand is really more for kids. If you walk by an horno (bakery) around 5.00–6.00pm, it is common to see parents or grandparents stopping by with their kids on the way home from school, to buy the kid a baked sweet (referred to as bollería). Though in the summer many adult Spaniards might also be spotted buying an ice cream snack. More commonly, around 6.00–7.00pm you will see many Spaniards out to 'tomar una caña' (drink a beer) with some nuts or a small tapa with friends or colleagues after work.
A quick drink, or caña, after work.
These snack times are why Spaniards have what seems to foreigners to be an amazing stamina for very late lunches and dinners. When I say that Spaniards have dinner at 9.00pm or later, I mean that 9.00pm is the earliest they would eat. Dinner at 10.00pm is pretty common, especially if one is dining out, and some eat even later. This is why prime time TV doesn't usually start until after the 9.00–10.00pm national news, and why Spaniards go to bed pretty late, around midnight on average, even on work nights.
And this schedule runs even later on weekends, with lunch usually at 3.00–3:30pm, and dinner no earlier than 10.00pm. Lunches are usually the heavier meal, and dinners, what with being so late, a lighter meal.
Originally from Austin, Texas, Zach Frohlich has been traveling between Spain and the U.S. for over a decade, and has been living in Valencia for the last few years. He is a historian by training and is married to a Spaniard. He shares cultural insights on Spain at Not Hemingway's Spain.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.