Spain Shouldn’t Change Its Mealtimes to Be More Like Us. We Should Change Ours.

Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 18 2014 5:05 PM

Spain Shouldn’t Change Its Mealtimes. We Should Change Ours.

Spaniards enjoy tapas in one of the many tapas bars at Calle Cava Baja on Oct. 23, 2009 in Madrid, Spain. As well they should.

Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

The most emailed story on the New York Times website right now is about a campaign to change Spain’s time zone. Why are Times readers so interested in whether Iberia’s biggest country leaves Central European Time to join Western European Time? It’s not because the story is new—the AP, and Slate, covered the time-change campaign last fall. I suspect the story’s popularity has much to do with its clever headline—“Spain, Land of 10 P.M. Dinners, Asks if It’s Time to Reset Clock”—which invites readers to gawk at Spaniards’ tendency to eat meals a few hours later than Americans do.

The article, by Jim Yardley, is a classic example of the way American publications tend to cover foreign news stories. Consider the opening paragraph, which presents Spaniards’ typical dinner time as a devastating twist:

Dipping into a bucket filled with Mahou beers, Jorge Rodríguez and his friends hunkered down on a recent Wednesday night to watch soccer at Mesón Viña, a local bar. At a nearby table a couple were cuddling, oblivious to others, as a waitress brought out potato omelets and other dinner orders. Then the game began. At 10 p.m.

“At 10 p.m.”! Dios no lo quiera!

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

To his credit, Yardley does a good job establishing the stakes of the proposed move to bring the Spanish workday more in line with the rest of Europe. Apart from possibly, supposedly improving economic productivity, a change would affect work-life balance for parents, television programming, and, more broadly, the “culture and customs” that comprise the Spanish “way of living.” Yardley leans rather heavily on the stereotype of the afternoon siesta, even while acknowledging that “it is not necessarily rooted in reality” (siesta popularity varies from region to region.)

But despite the headline, the Times doesn’t fully explore the Spanish mealtime regimen that stands to disappear if Spain adopts American-style 9-to-5 workdays. I’ve never lived in Spain, but visiting Spain and hearing stories from starry-eyed friends who have convinced me that Spanish eating habits are the eating habits of the gods. A typical Spanish day goes something like this:

8 a.m.: sweet pastry or churro with coffee or hot chocolate
11 a.m.: savory pastry
2 p.m.: two- or three-course meal, with optional wine
6 p.m.: small sandwich or tapas
10 p.m.: light dinner, with optional wine

In other words, if you like to eat, Spain is that place for you, because Spanish customs encourage you to eat as often as possible.

Even better, if you’re not a morning person, Spain is also the place for you, because Spanish customs will ease you gently into the day with two small, delicious snacks that wake you up and pique your appetite for the midday meal. Not interested in taking a long break for lunch in the middle of the afternoon? Come on—everyone knows it’s impossible to stay focused for 8 hours straight, the way we’re expected to on a 9-to-5 schedule. It’s much better for personal productivity to get away from one’s desk for the midday meal.

And if 10 p.m. seems like way too late for dinner, keep in mind that, because of Spain’s high latitude and its idiosyncratic time zone, the sun usually doesn’t set there until 9 or 10 p.m. In other words, the land of 10 p.m. dinners actually knows what its doing. Spain shouldn’t change its routine. We should change ours.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.