About Time?

The time of day in Spain has always seemed to me a little anachronistic. All of the surrounding countries, such as Portugal, UK and Morocco, are on Western European time (UTC), as geography dictates; they are all situated around, or slightly to the west of the Greenwich Meridian.

Spain, on the other hand, adheres to Central European time (UTC+01:00) as do France, Italy and Germany, despite the fact that Spain lies, for the most part, west of Greenwich.

Current Economy Minister Luis de Guindos wants that changed, and has issued a recommendation (PDF) that the Spanish government consider switching to the more appropriate zone.

An early voice of protest has been from the Canary Islands; as they are currently on Western European time, the change would align their clocks with the rest of Spain. The Canaries, though, enjoy the free publicity they get over the radio many times a day, with the familiar “it’s ten o’clock, or nine o’clock in the Canaries”. I can see their point; how much would it cost to insert such a plug into every radio time check all across Spain?

Luckily, there’s an elegant solution to that. The natural time zone for the Canary Islands is not Western European time, but UTC−01:00 as can be inferred from its position on the map. Las Canarias could move back their clocks too, to align with their geography, then everybody’s happy.

Unfortunately, the conspiracy theorist in me can’t escape the idea that this proposal is just part of the continuing fight to erase the Franco era from Spain’s history, which has already seen the removal of various statues and monuments and changes to many street names all across Spain.

Spain used to have the correct time zone for its geography, you see. The extra hour was added by Franco on 16th March 1940 to align the Spanish clocks with those of Hitler. On that day, as the clocks struck 11 a.m. the time became 12 noon. Presumably for the rest of that day the Spaniards were about three hours late for their obligations instead of the traditional two.

The current feeling seems to be that the actions of the Franco regime inflicted criminal damage on the prospects for modern-day Spain. There’s even a law, the The Spanish Law of Historical Memory, passed in 2007, which seeks the removal of Francoist symbols and images from all public buildings and spaces following the 30-year pact of silence that followed the dictator’s death. This suggested change of clocks could be seen, then, as a chance to correct one more old blunder, rub out one of the few remaining fingerprints of franquismo, while blaming the inconvenience and cost on the need to make necessary repairs and improvements to the economy.

The trouble is, you can’t magically turn Spain into a modern European nation simply by messing with how history is recorded. Changing a few road names, demolishing the odd statue and changing the time zone are simply tampering with the crime scene. Removing the evidence of those near forty years of history will not magically cause them not to have happened.

You mght be able to change the country’s time zone, but you can’t turn back the clock.

* * *

The proposal goes much further, though, than changing the time zone of the country. The suggestion is that the apparently unhealthy Spanish daily agenda, created to adapt to the ‘wrongness’ of the clock compared to daylight hours, should be adjusted to correspond more closely to that of the UK and most other European countries. People should get up earlier, work a shorter day (by compressing the long Spanish lunch break, not by working fewer hours), should finish earlier to allow for more family time, dine earlier and have a longer night’s sleep. From the document:

“Se trata de una tarea compleja, puesto que implica una transformación de nuestros usos y costumbres cotidianos —horas de levantarse, de acostarse, horas totales de sueño, horarios televisivos, de espectáculos— pero es innegable que los resultados nos harían converger con Europa en muchos aspectos en los que hoy estamos sumamente alejados, y muy particularmente en productividad, en competitividad …”

“It’s a complicated task, since it implies a transformation of our daily habits – the times we get up, go to bed, total hours of sleep, the schedules of television and other performances – but it’s undeniable that the results would align us with Europe in many respects that currently separate us, particularly in productivity and competitiveness …”

Would this change to the daily horario see us lose another traditional part of Spanish culture? Are not the hora de la siesta and dining at midnight two of the much-loved idiosyncrasies of Spain, if not in reality, at least in the mind of the prospective tourist?

To be honest, I don’t foresee that such a change would have much effect here in Extremadura. Even if the time zone were to change, when it’s 12 noon in London, around here it’ll still be 1978.

So what do you think? Should the clocks go back an hour?


11 thoughts on “About Time?

  1. “Presumably for the rest of that day the Spaniards were about three hours late for their obligations instead of the traditional two” lol

    “Even if the time zone were to change, when it’s 12 noon in London, around here it’ll still be 1978” lolz

    • I don’t know why I’ve taken to wearing a watch again …. I barely did at all for the first year or two here. 🙂

  2. We get up at 6 a.m. in the pitch black anyway to see to kids who have to leave for the school bus at 7, feed and toilet the menagerie and get ready for work ourselves, suppose it would make no difference to us. What would make a difference is a change to working hours as it is too hot to work in the middle of the day in summer, hence siesta, long lunches with colleagues and friends and also the late, late dinners…..let’s keep that bit, it is one of the things we love most! Oh and yes being in 1978 is good too!

    • Thanks Gill. Personally I’m OK with the late dinners, as I’ve already had early supper, late supper and pre-dinner by then; otherwise I’d have starved …

    • One of the many eccentric delights, eh? 😉

      [The time zone I mean, Paddy, not you …… well, maybe you too …. ]

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