Turn Your Lunch Hour into a Spanish Siesta

Some say the quintessential Spanish siesta is a dying practice, others are trying revive, or at least hold onto the luxury. Although the typical Spanish siesta (a 3-hour break around midday) is basically unheard of in the United States, there are a few ways that we in the States can bring a little R&R into our own workday.

Relax with your own version of a Spanish Siesta!

Relax with your own version of a Spanish Siesta!

The Art of the Siesta

The siesta has been associated with Spanish culture for many years. But, even in Spain, the art of taking a siesta can mean different things to different people. Some Spaniards will actually go home to nap for their siesta. Although a great idea in concept, this is not always convenient for people with long commutes. Others will take long, leisurely lunches with friends and co-workers, while others will run errands, exercise, or snooze in the park. 

To offset this long lunch break, Spaniards will work from about 9 AM to 8 PM each day, with a 2-3 hour break around midday. This lifestyle is very different from most industrialized nations in Europe, but even most European countries seem to take longer lunch breaks than Americans. However, this long-time practice may be changing.

A Dying Art?

According to a 2008 article in HR Magazine, employers in Spain have been rethinking their practice of allowing long afternoon breaks that extend the Spanish workday far into the evening. For example, in 2006, Spain’s government axed the siesta for its workers and adopted a more American-style work day with a one-hour lunch break and a 6 p.m. closing time. This has some workers up-in-arms and even protesting the new rules, while others are rejoicing. Those in support of putting an end to the siesta cite the need for Spain to be more in line with the rest of Europe in doing business and improve the work/life balance by shortening the typical workday.  

Siesta – My experience

My experience with the siesta is that it is alive and well, at least on the East Coast of Spain. When my husband and I went to Barcelona a few years ago, we learned quickly that the Spanish siesta wasn’t just a myth – something that we’d heard about in history/culture classes. It was very real, and from a tourist’s perspective, rather irritating. 

Just as we were getting to our daily destination and preparing ourselves for an authentic Spanish lunch, we noticed many shops and even some restaurants  changing their signs from open to close – stating they would reopen in 2-3 hours. It only took one lunch at a Spanish McDonald’s (the only thing that was open) before we learned to get up early, site see early, eat lunch early, and take our own siesta from 12-3 PM. Once we were used to this rhythm, as much as you can get used to it in a week’s time, we began to really appreciate the art of the siesta.

Since this time, I have been trying to recreate the Spanish siesta in my own life. It is very challenging, especially when I, like most Americans, only get 1 hour for a lunch break. But, it is possible to adopt some of the principles of the Spanish siesta, such as relaxation, meeting with friends, getting outdoors, etc., and have your own Americanized siesta.

10 Ways to Take a Spanish Siesta (on your lunch hour!)

  1. Take a walk, either by yourself or with a coworker
  2. Browse a local bookstore or music store       

    Browse a local bookstore on your Americanized siesta.

    Browse a local bookstore on your Americanized siesta.

  3. Peruse a local farmer’s market, or an indoor market in the winter
  4. Read a book or magazine on a park bench
  5. Meet a friend for lunch and tell people it’s a business meeting (so you won’t be tempted to break your date)
  6. If you have an office, close your door and do a few yoga stretches to loosen stiff joints
  7. Grab a tea or coffee at a local cafe       

    Grab a tea or coffee and people watch at a nearby cafe.

    Grab a tea or coffee and people watch at a nearby cafe.

  8. If you live in a metropolitan area, browse the nearby shops or take a quick tour of a tourist attraction
  9. Stash a blanket in your car and head out to a forest preserve for a picnic
  10. Get a mini manicure or pedicure at a nearby salon. An added bonus – take a nap in the massage chair! The ultimate siesta!

Whatever you do, the whole point is to relax and escape from the stresses of work for a little while. But I caution you, try a siesta once and you may be hooked!

Ciao!