Hasta la vista Spain as we know it?


Via the venerable Loyd “One L” Grossman’s Twitter account I learned of the latest measure proposed by those in the know to give the Spanish economy a shot in the arm. The New York Times reports that economists and politicians are considering whether it’s time to ‘reset the clock’ in Spain to bring their cultural timetable in line with the rest of Europe. The idea is that by both bringing the country into the same timezone as the UK and adopting a more 9-to-5 style working schedule, productivity will be up and those with families and other commitments will have far more flexible lives.

Now I love Spain and I want it to prosper. But from a purely selfish viewpoint I don’t want the status quo to change as I fear it would set the clock counting down on what makes the country so compelling. I have visited Spanish shores quite a bit in the past year and can categorically say that those experiences would have been significantly worse if the locals were working for the man rather than mañana.

I was in Valencia over the new year where I revelled in the late night revelry and embraced the siestas. One of the joys of visiting a foreign country is immersing oneself into the culture, pace and way of life. Sure, when you’re used to eating your dinner at 8pm (or 6pm if you eat ‘tea’, whatever that is), switching up to eating at 10 pm could be challenging for some but one should always adopt a ‘when in Rome’ attitude and watch a city like Valencia come alive after the watershed. These are the habits and traditions that define a country and make you want to go there. They shape the country, in the same way the British Empire has meant curry is now our national dish. Just try to comprehend an Ibiza where something happens in the morning that isn’t after the night before.

The aforementioned New York Times piece quotes a chap called Miguel who sums it up in his reaction to the prospect of reducing the long lunchtimes of yore. “I’m completely against that,” he said, “It is one thing to eat. It is another thing to nourish oneself. Our culture and customs are our way of living.” Nourish is the right word. Families sitting around a table at home eating great food is immeasurably more satisfying for body mind and soul than a soggy sandwich in a Boots combo deal eating al desko or a tepid thai chicken curry ready meal balanced on your lap in front of Emmerdale. Old habits die hard, and so they should if traditions are to be upheld and people nourished.

This eat, sleep, eat, repeat lifestyle influences how we feel when we go to Spanish restaurants over here too. On entering the home of the best tapas in London, José’s on Bermondsey Street, the authentic interior, bustle and service, as well as the heady air perfumed with the smell of sizzling prawn shells, immediately calms everything down. “You’re on Spanish time now”, it seems to say. Hence why bottles of excellent Barbazul, slice after slice of Iberico ham (pictured, and my current culinary obsession) and more croquettas than anyone strictly needs sees me stay for hour upon hour.

It’s last supper stuff – the food, the wine, the atmosphere and the welcome. It’s not fine dining but I wouldn’t want it to be. It’s far more than just ‘fine’. I’m at home and never want to leave. And it’s only the Spanish and the culture their casual attitude to the clock has created that can offer such a compelling combination.

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