and Spain -- Siesta Land
We've always wondered at tourists who, when visiting other countries,
see a strange practice and deride it as inferior to what they're used
to. (We remember with amusement the students who returned from January
Term trips to Greece complaining that people there spoke a foreign
language!) Why travel if that's your attitude? We try always to open
our minds and avoid such prejudgments.
in Spain and Portugal, we have run into serious culture shock. Our
problem: the siesta. It occurs sometime in the middle of the day,
starting anywhere from noon until 2:30 pm., and lasting at least
2, maybe 3 hours. Businesses (and schools) are closed during this
period, and the Spanish and Portuguese enjoy long, leisurely lunches
-- their main meal of the day. On the face of it, pretty civilized.
The problem is that there is no consistency in WHEN the siesta is
-- even in one town. Which means that for a big chunk in the middle
of the day, it's really hard to get anything done. Not so bad if
what you wanted to do was to have lunch, but suppose you wanted
to get information from the Tourist Bureau? In Coruña, they
were open from 10-12, then 2:30-5. In Bayona, from 9-1, then 3-6.
So when we arrived in Puerto de Santa Maria, near Cadiz, around
noon, we figured the Tourist Bureau would be closed before we could
hike into the town center and so waited until 2, only to find that
this office's hours were from 10-2:30 then 4:30-6:30! And the tourist
attractions themselves are closed for siesta, too, again randomly,
so that you can't plan an itinerary because most of the brochures
don't list the hours, and many businesses don't either.
real monkey-wrenches in the works, of course, are the companies
(mainly banks) who don't have siestas, but are open straight through
from about 9 to about 5 (or, in the case of the Post Office, between
8:30 AM and 2 PM). Basically what this all means is that you try
to get all your business done between about 9 AM and noon. After
that, it's a crap shoot. When you're on foot, it's really frustrating
when you throw craps.
thought this random timing of siestas might not be a problem for
the locals, but maybe even that isn't true -- we remember Lisa's
frustration with this cultural feature when she was in the same
city in Spain for a college term and had plenty of time to learn
the drill. But for tourism, you'd think it's the pits. The big coaches
roll into town around 10:00 or so, and the tourists get to look
around and shop for a couple of hours, then nothing is open until
late afternoon! Yet tourism is huge in Spain -- there are many more
tourists per year than there are residents. (Aside: Spain claims
to be the world's second biggest tourist destination. Anyone know
what the first would be?) We guess the tourists like to eat and
drink, as that's pretty much all one can do on the 'tour bus' schedule.
said of Primo Rivera, the early 20th-Century Spanish dictator, that
he 'made the trains run on time.' Why didn't he synchronize siestas?
He probably didn't have to walk a couple of miles to the ferreteria,
only to find it closed until 4.
have found one activity for the siesta period, other than eating
and drinking, that's a lot of fun: we wander around the old part
of town, ducking into the open passageways and delighting in the
gorgeous courtyards and architectural features within. As seen from
the street, old Spanish buildings are rather plain, with shuttered
and glassed-in balconies, sometimes with wrought-iron railings but
often not, and an arched entryway with a heavy studded wooden door
which is commonly open to the street during the day. Peering through
the archway, we see a beautiful, cool-looking light from the courtyard,
usually showing off blue and white tiles on the opposite wall, with
large potted plants everywhere. Venturing in through the tunnel-like
entry, we look up to see fine ironwork, plants, trees, and flowers
everywhere, and interesting architectural details, varying from
baroque to half-Moorish to minimalist, but always beautifully proportioned.
Some courtyards are glassed over at the top, and presumably air-conditioned
during the summer; but most are open to the sky. For some reason,
the courtyards seem to be 10 or 20 degrees cooler on a hot afternoon
than the street outside, and of course they're much more quiet.
the siesta has turned us on to the architecture; maybe it's not
so bad after all!