A “Typical Spanish” Myth
People all over the world are enchanted by Spain—its perfect climate, beautiful beaches, and vibrant social life—but many common ideas about the country aren’t particularly true. One the most pervasive myths about Spain is that it has a “fiesta/siesta” culture: that people stay out late at night and sleep off their excesses during the midday siesta. Spaniards, it is said, are relaxed and even lazy at work but energetic on their own time, which is typically devoted to eating, drinking, dancing, and other diversions. In other words: they don’t live to work, but work to really live.
Spain’s reputation of having a high quality of life isn’t entirely false, but neither is it the whole story. On the one hand, Spaniards are less stressed than other Europeans—and have lower levels of productivity. On the other hand, Spain has the longest working hours of any nation in the EU, and few people take siestas nowadays. In fact, Spaniards sleep, on average, an hour less per day than other Europeans. What’s more, several of the world’s most profitable and innovative companies (Banco Santander, Zara, Iberdrola, Telefónica) are Spanish. Therefore, it’s hardly fair to suggest that Spaniards aren’t hard-working—even offensive, given the current level of unemployment; if there’s one thing that the unemployed do care about, it’s work. To sum up, the idea that they are lazy and hedonistic just isn’t true.
It’s safe to say that the image of Spain’s “fiesta/siesta" culture has always been an exaggeration. These days, however, Spain is even further from the easy-going, fun-loving place people imagine. Its quality of life has suffered in recent years. The Euro has made it more expensive, and the financial crisis has brought ruin to Spain’s main industries, construction and tourism. Just as fewer Europeans are choosing to spend their vacations in places like Benidorm and Mallorca, Spaniards are increasingly forced to relocate outside of the country to find work. They don’t work to live, but emigrate to work. Nowadays, young people worry that a new myth is taking shape: that Spain has a weak economy and a workforce that can’t keep up with the rest of Europe.