Is the typical Spanish daily schedule about to change forever? For decades, campaigners in the country have complained that the average Spaniard’s habit of keeping extremely late hours and taking delightfully long lunch breaks was making everyday life harder for citizens. This week, change could finally be on the way, as 110 professional bodies in Catalonia have signed up to a plan to change the region’s daily timetable by 2025, shortening the classic three-hour lunch break so that employees can finish work earlier in the evening.
Such a change would radically reshape ordinary people’s lives—and controversially, it could drive another wedge between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, where the national government supports similar changes (and has adopted a shorter break for public offices) but hasn’t yet fixed a timetable for action.
Catalonia’s campaign against the traditional Spanish timetable can be read as an attempt to distance itself from the rest of the country—not unlike its earlier ban on bullfighting. Changing this timetable, condensing the working day, and harmonizing Spanish hours more with the EU norm would do more than make life easier for workers who do business in other countries. It would also change school timetables, reduce afternoon traffic, slash the length of lunchtime shop closures, and shift primetime TV, whose lateness has led to some bizarre scheduling. (The finale of “MasterChef Junior,” which is aimed at young viewers, ended at 1 a.m. on a weeknight.)
Even if all Spain shifted their working hours in 2025, however, there would still be other factors encouraging the Spanish to keep late hours. Chief among these is Spain’s location in the wrong time zone. During World War II, Franco aligned Spain’s clocks to central European time, to match his Nazi allies, moving the country out of the previous time zone that it shared with Portugal and the UK.
Given that almost all of Spain lies to the west of London, this kicked Spanish time off kilter—sundown occurred an hour later than it normally would for countries at the same latitude. Spaniards thus needs to wait longer than other Southern Europeans for the day to cool off, so they had to become night owls to enjoy more downtime after dusk. Not surprisingly, a plan to return to Spain’s pre-Franco time zone is also in the works.
In a world of increasing standardization, it might be tempting to mourn the final demise of Spain’s eccentric and glorious mix of work, life, and nap. There’s something thrilling about the nocturnal buzz of Spanish cities and towns, where even here in Alcalá public living by night is shared by all generations, who fill sidewalks and cafes into the wee small hours.
But the reality is the Spanish are chained to an inconvenient, irrational work and sleep routine; changing the workday is an utterly logical step. People who stay up late will do so because they want to, rather than because they have to. And everyone else can finally get some rest. But here in our small part of the world? I don’t think so, not any time soon. After all Alcalá is Andalucia and not Cataluña, verdad Montse?