Last week I was in Madrid for the TANSNIP study. Although it was beginning of October and leaves were already falling slowly to the ground and sweaters came out to play, the temperatures suddenly increased to top summer levels again. The Spaniards are quite used to this metereological phenomenan which happen each year at the end of september and call it veranillo de San Miguel. It is connected to the celebration at 29th of September: the saint’s day of San Miguel, San Rafael and San Gabriel (the three Archangels).

Whatever it is, I was very happy with this San Miguel thing which implicated summer revival. This time my apartment (by Airbnb) was located in Malasaña – in my opinion one of the nicest neighborhoods in Madrid. At the end of Franco´s era, around the 80´s Malasaña became popular. It is known for its bohemian spirit, street art and special craftsman shops. In the heart of Malasaña is Calle del Espírity Santo which is a great mix of street art, colorful coffee chops and special foodshops (from popcorn, ice lollys to cakes ). After work I’d like to observe the local life and sitting on a terrace with a book is what I do often (recommended is restaurant Ojála ). It was not the first time that i was surprised by the fact that people eat extraordinary late and go to bed after noon. A logical thing to do would be to start working at 10am but they don’t. Most Spaniards start between 8am-9.30am which is to be compared to the Netherlands.

Spain – permanent jet lag.
While driving to the Spanish bank for some interviews – which is about 20km outside of Madrid – I decided to share this with my Spanish colleague. According to him, most Spaniards have a permanent jetlag and this is mainly because a large part of the peninsula is living in the wrong time zone (i.e., the Canary Islands forms an exception). In 1943 it was decided by dictator Franco that Spain needed to live in the same time zone as Nazi Germany. Portugal and Great Britain followed, but after the war years they returned to their original time. Looking up some history information reveals that time zones were identified during the International Meridian Conference in 1884 where they decided to split the earth in 24 time zones, with Greenwich (part of London) was the prime meridian. Spain is not an exception where times zones are not matched to country or state boundaries. For example, a part of France falls in the Greenwich area but they use the Central European time. Likewise, Chine is officially divided in 5 time zones but uses only one. My colleague mentioned that the people living in Madrid and other parts of the actual ‘Greenwich zone’ wake up an hour too early and to go bed an hour too late. This makes it harder to get 6 hours of sleep that is recommended by the World Health Organization. Research shows that the Spaniards sleep less than all Europeans. That I pick a hot topic is supported by the fact that there is a special committee investigating the hours – namely the ARHOE (National Commission for the Rationalization of Spanish Hours). According to ARHOE the incorrect time has far stretching implications for productivity, stress, accidents at work, and school performance for the youth. Living ahead of the solar hour implicates that lunch is consumed at 2-3 pm and supper from 21-22 hours. Likewise, prime time television schedules (after 10pm) should be adapted – televisions stations are open for that but only wanting to do it if people will be home to tune in. Nowadays people do not arrive home before 10pm. Resetting the time is ideally accompanied by better alignment of working hours. That Spaniards struggle to combine work / life is not irrational when you consider that they are working 200h per year more than the average of Europe. An explanation for these long workhours is the extensive amount of social gatherings during the workday combined with meals such as breakfast and lunch. Changing the time zone is for sure not a one-size-fits-all solution. Discussion should be focused on the use and distribution of daily work/private time in Spain which is totally different than Northern Europe.

Getting rid of the so-called permanent jetlag would come at no cost and is a lot easier than changing deep-rooted cultural habits. Much more is needed to end the marathon of working hours, general low work productivity, the late lunch and supper, and overall difficulties with balancing work/private life.