The siesta is one of the most notable aspects of Spanish life —that dead period in the late
afternoon when everything shuts down in Spain, in theory, so people can rest and take a nap.

Over the years, there have been two periods of siesta in Spain—siesta for shops and businesses,
when many people go to a bar or restaurant—and then siesta for the restaurants, who obviously
can’t rest when everyone wants to come and eat. The siesta for shops and businesses is from
approximately 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. while bars and restaurants close from about 4 p.m. until about 8
or 9 p.m.

The practice of siesta has its surprising origins in Italy – more precisely, the core of the Roman
Empire as it was. In fact, the word siesta comes from the Latin word sexta (sixth), a reference to
the fact that Romans used to get some much needed rest around the sixth hour of daylight every
day (hora sexta, which is the origin of the word ‘siesta’). This practice ended up spreading, but
Romans were not the only ones who enjoyed sleep.

Most countries that adopted the practice of napping share a common feature: they get really,
really hot in summer. Temperatures that can go up to 40ºC or 104ºF make it tortuous to work in
agriculture and farming at a certain point, so siesta was a strategic way to escape the heat and
recover some energy to be more productive later.

One big reason for the traditional siesta is that the Spanish have always liked to have a long
lunch. At home, a mother will cook a huge lunch for the whole family (and yes, that does include
for her grown son; it is still customary to enjoy a home-cooked meal as an adult out of the nest).
This meal could last up to two hours (longer if time allowed), and alcohol was often included. Rest
before going back to work was essential after that.

The other reason that the Spanish continue to want the traditional lunchtime break is that it allows
them to stay up later in the evening without fading. The nightlife of Spain may have caused (or
maintained) the country’s siesta culture, but it is the siesta that allows the late night partying
lifestyle to continue, and many Spaniards don’t want that to change.
The sun stays out much later in Spain than in most other European countries, thus encouraging
later eating and partying. Spanish nightlife is an all-night affair. The streets start to fill up at
midnight and Spanish people stay out beyond 3 a.m., which would be difficult without a siesta.

Siesta is so natural for the Spanish and so unusual for the foreigners who came from non-
Mediterranean countries. Usually they have 45-60 minutes for the lunch and they have to turn
back to the office. It take them good few months to get used to a new schedule. And you know
what, after a while they seem pretty happy about it!

Today many wonder whether the concept of siesta isn’t outdated and part of an exhausted
stereotype that doesn’t apply anymore. Well, if you ask me, I can’t resist catching a wink after
lunch. 🙂

Do you know what surprises many of expatriates who move to Spain?
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