British press has field day with news Spanish PM wants to “kill the siesta”

Cultural stereotypes abound in reporting of Rajoy’s plan for working day to end at 6pm

Acting Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy during a party rally this weekend.
Acting Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy during a party rally this weekend.PACO PUENTES

The British kill foxes at all hours of the day and give oral sex in exchange for free drinks when they’re on vacation in Magaluf. The Spanish, for their part, are crazy about bulls – killing them that is, not the other thing – and sleep a three-hour siesta every day.

That’s how extreme things can get in the world of clichés. It’s an unfair representation of the world, and one in which a good part of the Anglo-Saxon press has incurred this week based on a proposal from acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to shorten the working day in Spain so that it finishes at 6pm.

The above tweet from UK daily The Independent sums up the angle that most papers took when reporting the story. Perhaps Spaniards will have to wait until they definitively embrace said century before they can understand why the online publication illustrated the tweet with photos of runners from the Sanfermines bull-running fiesta.

The Popular Party (PP) politician had suggested measures that would ensure the working day in Spain finished at 6pm and that the time zone should be shifted to match that of the Canary Islands, Portugal and the United Kingdom – geographically, this is the zone that corresponds to Spain. These measures have been up for debate for some time now and seek to improve productivity and improve work-family life balance for Spaniards, many of whom still enjoy a two-hour lunch break but in exchange have to work until around 7pm.

The story in The Independent mixed up the concept of a siesta with a two- or three-hour lunch break, which is still common in many companies in Spain. “Workers in Spain currently tend to start work at 10am and stay until 2pm, when they take a siesta of up to three hours before leaving the office at 8pm,” read the first version of the article, which was later corrected, and that also referred to acting Prime Minister Rajoy as the leader of a center-right coalition government.

Reactions in Twitter – ranging from anger and scorn, to the desire to set the story straight – were swift to arrive.

But The Independent was not alone. Rajoy’s threat to kill off the siesta also appeared in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times, three more prestigious titles in the UK. The story also crossed the pond and was picked up by Time and The Washington Post, which headlined its story with the attention-grabbing “Time to wake up!”

The siesta has its origins in the rural roots of Spanish society, when agricultural workers could rest during the hottest hours of the day. But as offended internet users pointed out in response to the stories, few workers enjoy a mid-day sleep in current times.

What is true is that, according to a 2011 study by the British Office for National Statistics, Spaniards work two hours more every week than workers in the UK, and an hour more than the European average. Perhaps, as The Guardian points out, the five million unemployed in Spain have the chance to enjoy a nap. “And until the government can find them a job, it won’t much matter when the working day begins or ends,” the article concludes.

English version by Simon Hunter.


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