Last year I became an Auxiliar de Conversación, with the Spanish Ministry. I worked in a Spanish school and taught English for the year. I packed my things and moved to Madrid, using CIEE as my liaison program to get there.
Moving to Madrid involved some adjustments. There were many things to get used to, such as speaking a new language, learning about a different culture, and getting used to a different schedule. One of the biggest changes was the Spanish siesta.
What is the Spanish Siesta?
The word siesta is a root of the Latin word “sexta” meaning sixth hour. The siesta is a break from the workday, from 2 to 4. Traditionally it was meant as a period to nap, but fewer people are now using the time to actually nap and instead enjoy the break from work.
It’s as if someone hits a pause button on all daily life in order to rest!
A siesta is a period during the day where shops and businesses are closed, but not everything closes. Warm climate and agriculture are significant factors for why people in Spain take a siesta. People need to escape the heat and not work outside, especially in the summer, when the heat is more intense.
During the civil war, this mid-day break allowed Spaniards to work two different jobs. The break was a natural time to switch jobs. A common misconception is that the siesta allows for less work. In fact, workdays in Spain are usually 9am -2pm, then from 4pm-8pm.
Ironically enough, even though the siesta is meant for rest, the Spanish Siesta stresses some people out, visitors and residents alike. This is especially true if you are used to a culture that encourages non-stop work and hustle. It took me some time to realize that work is not the most important value to Spaniards. They really value family time.
My commute to work was about an hour and a half, which caused me stress because I thought everyone would go home to nap, leaving me all alone in the school! Luckily, that was not the case. People were still out and about during the siesta and also used this time to chat. It was not hard to find a conversation partner during this time.
How to Make the Most of the Spanish Siesta
While many businesses close, not everything does. Spaniards usually take a long lunch, but you can also go to the gym, go to museums and take walks. And yes, you will probably be able to find an open pharmacy or shop if there is an emergency.
Some of the top museums to visit in Madrid are:
- Casa Museo Lope de Vega
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
- Prado National Museum
- Museo Sorolla
- Museo Lazaro Galdiano
- Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza
- Museo Arqueologico Nacional
- Museo Cerralbo
- Espacio Fundacion Telefonica
- Museo del Aire
- Caixa Forum
- Museo Del Romanticismo
- Naval Museum
- Museo de San Isidro
- Museo Casa de la Moneda
- Museo del Ferrocarril de Madrid
In Madrid, people are used to tourists, especially tourists who are not accustomed to taking breaks. I usually found somewhere to read or get caught up on my work. Since Madrid is really sunny, I spent so much time outside! There are so many amazing parks and beaches all over Spain. Some of my favourite parks in Madrid include:
- Retiro Park
- Palacio de Cristal
- Sabatini Gardens
- Madrid Río Park
- Templo de Debod
There are also many beautiful churches you can visit, such as:
- La Almudena Cathedral
- Iglesia de San Manuel y San Benito
- Basilica De San Francisco El Grande
Taking a siesta allows you to have more energy later into the evening and with the Spanish nightlife lasting well into the early morning hours, utilizing the period of rest to refuel your energy means you will be able to take in all the Spanish culture.
The Health Benefits of the Siesta
Siestas can be extra beneficial for your overall wellbeing. It allows for more family time and it helps people create a work-life balance. It’s also been found to be beneficial for overall cardiac health.
The siesta taught me to be more patient and realize that what needs to get done will get done. It also showed me that taking breaks is okay. The fact that everyone was “breaking” at the same time made me feel less guilty for using the time how I wanted. I could also call my family to incorporate my own family time.
The beauty of this time is that you don’t have to spend it the same way every day. Most of the time I did just catch up on my work, or I grabbed a snack. I think my siestas were some of my best memories in Spain. I met new people, I got to know the people I worked with, I connected with friends and we described our days.
If you are a tourist, I recommend you use the siesta to bond with your fellow travellers, go out and meet some new people, or enjoy the outdoor activities Spain has to offer.
Helpful Spanish Phrases For Travellers
Knowing some key phrases in Spanish can help you navigate the Spanish siesta time effectively. Here are some phrases I used often:
“Siesta” translates to “nap” in English.
“¿Que estas hacienda?” means “what are you doing?”
“¿Quieres tomar un café?” means “want to get a coffee?”
“Te” means tea, and “zumo” is juice. Sometimes “jugo” if the juice has more than fruit in it.
“Me gustaría un café.” means “I would like a coffee.”. This is the polite way to order a coffee.
“¿Como te llamas?” translates to “what is your name”
“¿Qué tal?” means “what’s up?”
“¿Como estás?” means “How are you?”
“Nada” means “nothing”.
“Estoy bien” means “I’m well.”
“¿Y tu?” means “And yourself?”
“Cerrado” means “Closed”
“Abierto” means “Open”
“La tienda está abierto” “The store is open”
“La farmacía está cerrado” “The pharmacy is closed”
More From the Author
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out more from Julia at Backpack English where she writes about travel and shares tips for learning a new language along with ESL teaching material for people looking to teach ESL overseas. You can also find her on Instagram.
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