Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is personal view of Spain and Spanish life as seen by a Briton living in a small village in Alicante province.
The other tabs link to similar blogs when I have lived in other places. The TIM magazine is an English language magazine I write articles for.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The tyranny of mealtimes

I used to listen to the Archers. For those of you that don't know the Archers is a long running British radio soap. The reason that I started to listen was that it used to start at 7.05pm. By then I was usually in the car and on the way to a meeting. And, that's because evening meetings in the UK invariably started at 7.30pm. I don't know whether that's still true. I can't really speak for UK habits nowadays but my guess is that things haven't changed. Likewise I would guess that the most popular slots for dinner reservations in restaurants will be 8pm or 8.30pm. Countries have timetables and most people know that Spain's is a little different.

Making a sweeping generalisation, as though it were the truth, most Spaniards leave the house with a minimal breakfast around 7.30 or 8am and get to work for the usual sort of times – 8,8.30 or 9am. Shops and lots of offices don't open till 10am. There's a mid morning break for something reasonably substantial - a sandwich, fruit, yogurt and drink sort of sized snack. Lunch is somewhere around 2pm or 3pm and I think that the majority of people still go home or to a restaurant and have a quite hefty midday meal. There's time to do a few of the household chores as well as to eat before going back for the second stint of three or four hours work starting at 4pm, maybe at 5pm. Dinner is usually eaten anywhere from 9pm to 11pm and lots of people manage to fit in some sort of snack between lunch and dinner - it's a good time for a tapa. Now that's like saying that everyone in the UK works 9 till 5. There are as many working patterns as there are businesses but the idea of a morning shift and an afternoon shift divided by lunch is a sound generalisation for a good percentage of the population.

So, if a Spaniard were making a dinner reservation 8pm just wouldn't do - most would be still at work and the majority of restaurants would only just be gearing up for the evening anyway. You would be perfectly safe with a 9.30pm reservation, though in some places and at some times of year it may be a little early. 10pm would be fine. Later wouldn't be odd especially in summer or when something was going on. Events, theatre and stuff generally kick off quite early, maybe at 7.30pm or 8pm which doesn't quite fit with the hypothesis that everyone's still at work but I've been to lots of plays that start at 10pm too. In summer, for instance in our local fiesta, many of the performances start at 11pm or midnight.

At work, at the job in Pinoso, they asked me if I fancied doing a couple of intensive 60 hour English courses in July. The truth is that I would rather read a book and lounge in the garden but the tax man sent me a hefty bill this year and I need the money so I said yes. I didn't need to guess much at the timetable. We'd have a slot in the morning and a slot in the afternoon. My arithmetic was up to it; four weeks working Monday to Friday at three hours a session, fifteen hours per week or sixty hours across the month doubled up for the two courses. Probably 9am to 12 noon and probably 4pm till 7pm or maybe an hour later. Either slot would be very normal, very standard.

Then we ran into a snag. My employers run a playscheme in the summer and a venue change meant that the morning slot wasn't open to us. Then the Spanish timetable dealt another blow. We couldn't possibly start before 4pm, any earlier and people wouldn't even have time for a quick lunch. And getting home for the next meal meant that going much beyond 9pm was pushing it a bit too. Again the basic arithmetic that Miss Bushell had driven into nearly 60 years ago came into play. Nine minus four is five and that's less than six and six hours is what you need for two courses of three hours a day. In order to get in the 120 hours for the two courses we'd need 24 sessions. The neat package of the same time slot for a nice self contained 60 hour course was out of the window. Other internal timetabling considerations made it even more complicated until eventually we ended up with a course running across six weeks with a variety of time slots.

I once shared a house with someone who stuck to a strict eight hours work, eight hours leisure, eight hours sleep policy. He was completely out of step with society. He'd have had a hard time of it in Spain.

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