The curious case of the missing Spanish afternoon

After I first moved to Spain final summer season, I felt surprisingly disorientated. I may hardly blame tradition shock — I’d been visiting the nation for years earlier than I moved to Madrid. I communicate Spanish. I’ve Spanish household. However I’d by no means lived right here, and one thing was misplaced. Then an opportunity remark from a buddy crystallised the issue. “The factor is that in Spain you haven’t any phrase for the afternoon,” she mentioned. And he or she was proper.

I do know the net dictionaries will inform you in any other case — that the afternoon interprets into “la tarde” in Spanish. However it’s extra sophisticated than that. The tarde just isn’t a neatly outlined phrase that covers a discrete phase of the day earlier than night. As a result of what’s the phrase for night in Spain? It’s “la tarde” too.

Sure, slippery however hegemonic, the tarde reigns over all of it, an amorphous idea that spans a bit of the day so giant that different languages want two phrases for it. The tarde resists management, and there’s no social consensus on what it means. Spanish individuals themselves can’t agree when it begins or ends. “In that sense there’s a chaos in Spanish life,” says Fernando Vilches, a linguist at Rey Juan Carlos college. I feel we can provide my affliction a reputation: scheduling shock.

Spaniards divide the day by completely different parameters. Those I’ll name clockists, usually kids who’ve lived overseas, assume when it comes to hours. However which hours? Nobody agrees with me that the tarde begins at noon. A authorities minister informed me he greets individuals with “buenas tardes” if he begins a speech at 12.30pm. “But when it’s 12pm and also you say that folks provide you with a humorous look.” A number of clockists say the tarde begins at 2pm. However there’s a 4pm faction too.

Then there are the foodists, who carve up the day not by hours however by meals, which in Spain are sometimes lengthy, late and splendidly convivial. For individuals who say the tarde doesn’t start till you’ve began lunch, that may imply half-past two, three and even later. However for a lot of older individuals it doesn’t start till you’ve completed consuming, which will get you past 4pm and even 5pm.

A giant lunch with shoppers can begin with beer, spiral by way of wine, and finish with a shot of pacharán, adopted by a gin and tonic within the bar subsequent door. “Then it’s again to work at 6pm,” says Vilches. “You try this to a poor American and he’s drunk, sleepy and needs to go house. So now we have to alter issues a bit.” And certainly change has begun: loads of corporations have dropped the usual two-hour lunch break so individuals can get house earlier to their households.

Spain’s famed post-lunch siesta can also be not as frequent as you’d assume. The one individuals I do know who’ve common weekday naps are in nursery or retirement. One is my relative Marcelino, 70, who says the tarde doesn’t start till he wakes up at round 7pm. However extra individuals nap in the summertime, because the blistering warmth makes it exhausting to do something with out aircon. When a giant a part of the day is a write-off, maybe you don’t want phrases for afternoon and night.

By 9pm the early birds are beginning dinner. However 9 to 10 is a gray zone the place greeting anybody with “buenas noches” somewhat than “buenas tardes” can elicit a kind of humorous seems. At weekends there are nonetheless youngsters within the playgrounds at 10.30pm. You may make restaurant reservations at 1 / 4 to midnight.

Daniel Gabaldón, a sociologist on the College of Valencia, says that is all related to a different curiosity: mainland Spain is within the unsuitable timezone. If its clocks have been set in line with the place of the solar, it might be on the identical time because the UK and Portugal. However as an alternative it’s one hour forward, as a result of within the Nineteen Forties the dictatorship of Francisco Franco determined Spain ought to be aligned with Nazi Germany. For half the 12 months, Spain units its clocks to photo voltaic time on the German-Polish border. When it adjusts for daylight saving, it matches photo voltaic time in the course of Ukraine.

Having lunch at 2.30pm in Spain signifies that, in line with photo voltaic time, you’re actually consuming at about 1.30pm (within the winter) or 12.30pm (in the summertime). For official time and pure time to be so out of whack is unhealthy, says Nuria Chinchilla of Iese Enterprise College. “Now we have fixed jet lag.” It’s no surprise every part finally ends up fuzzy.

barney.jopson@ft.com

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