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In the historic district of Madrid, Spain, Florencio Cordoba, 46, closes his famous cape shop, Sesenin, at 2 p.m. each day and heads for home. Once there, he changes into pajamas, eats his lunch, and then plops onto the couch for an afternoon nap. Although Cordoba's siesta will mean a longer workday (he'll reopen his shop at 5 p.m. for another three-and-a-half-hour stretch), his afternoon break is an honored tradition in Spain, practiced for generations. Before too long, however, such siestas could be as rare as old-fashioned windup alarm clocks.

With the country under pressure to conform to the shorter lunch breaks in most of the 14 other nations in the European Union, Spain's traditional workday--with its three-hour siesta break to eat and sleep--is steadily disappearing. Large companies are cutting lunch to two hours, and corporate culture is turning against the concept of nodding off during the day, seeing it as a sign of laziness.

For Cordoba and other members of his generation, abandoning the midday snooze amounts to a radical cultural change, and feelings about it run deep. Spanish newspapers still routinely trumpet studies suggesting that naps are healthy, and last summer, the national daily El Mundo devoted 10 pages to the subject. It said that siestas in America were simply called "power naps," and it cited Levi Strauss, Ben & Jerry's, and Mac World magazine as some of the U.S. companies testing the notion of office "nap lounges."

Even some younger adults mourn the loss of the afternoon nap, which they say gave a certain pace to the day and intimacy to their family relationships. Roberto Suarez Santos, the 31-year-old director of the labor relations department of the powerful Spanish Employers' Organization, takes only working lunches himself these days, but he still looks upon the siesta as something that enhanced his parents' lives. "They had this time to go back home and talk to each other," Suarez says. "They had two or three hours together in the middle of the day to discuss what was going on in their lives. It gave a coherence to the family. Now it seems there is less and less time to talk."


Spain's recent modernization is partly to blame. With the thriving Spanish economy creating new jobs faster than any other country in the European Union, more and more people are joining the workforce. This growth has increased traffic in the cities and allowed young people to move to the suburbs. Growing numbers of Spaniards are facing long commutes, and increasingly women are joining the workforce. This means that popping home is getting harder, and that, anyway, no one is home cooking the hot meal that usually precedes the siesta.

For now, Spain seems stuck in a somewhat chaotic transition. Most small stores continue to close from 2 to 5 p.m., but big department stores now remain open throughout the afternoon lunch break. As a result, die-hard nappers have had to find creative ways of getting some afternoon shut-eye. Many have become closet nappers, retreating to their cars or nearby health clubs for a quick snooze.

That hardly counts as a legitimate siesta to old-timers like Cordoba. But the Madrid shopkeeper admits that changes are coming. Even his oldest daughter now works a continuous day, getting home at 6 p.m. But, he quickly adds, "She is always complaining she is tired."


When Laura Yustos goes home from school at 2:30 each afternoon, the last thing she wants to do is sleep. "I'm not really tired enough to need an afternoon nap," says the Madrid 16-year-old. "I'll watch my favorite series on television or study, but I never take a siesta."

Laura's attitude is typical. Throughout Spain, schools still close at 2:30 so students can go home for the traditional big meal of the day and a nap when the sun is at its hottest. But most Spanish teenagers would prefer to watch television, study, or hang out with their friends. For them, it's not the pressures of competing in the world economy that are depriving them of extra sleep. Rather, it's the competing pleasures of the world economy.

When their parents were young, fewer alternative activities existed. Until a decade ago, for instance, the country had only two television stations. Today, there are six networks and dozens of stations for those who have satellite or cable TV. Even the small towns now have movie theaters and gyms, and afternoon dance clubs are popular with teenagers.

Many schools reopen around 5 for electives such as music and art, extracurricular activities, or, in the case of some private schools, more classes. Especially for those with heavy afternoon schedules, there just aren't enough hours in the day left to play.

"Even on Saturdays and Sundays I can't spare the time to take a siesta," says Daniel Magni, 16. "Weekends are for having fun!"

--Benjamin Jones

SUZANNE DALEY is the New York Times bureau chief in Paris
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Title Annotation:Spaniards are giving up their lunchtime napping
Author:Daley, Suzanne
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Mar 27, 2000
Previous Article:Rebels With a Cause.
Next Article:Not Your Father's Prom.

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