Regarding adjustments to life in Spain, one of the first things tourists will notice and expats will warn you about is the difference in eating schedule from the US: here, lunch is around 2:00 or 3:00 pm (or for me, sometimes closer to 4:00 pm) and dinner hovers between 9:00 and 10:00 pm (and can be pushed even later on the weekends). With a careful rationing of snacks, adjusting is not too difficult. I got accustomed pretty quickly when I lived in Sevilla, and even faster here in Madrid on my second Spanish tour. But I never really stopped to ask myself why Spain and the US differed so much on this topic; I simply chalked it up to cultural difference.
It turns out that there’s a very logical explanation stemming from a concrete moment in history. Prior to dictator Francisco Franco, Spain was in its rightful time zone, Western European Time aka Greenwich Mean Time, along with its peninsular neighbor to the west, Portugal, as well as the United Kingdom, which is located northeast of Spain. Makes sense that España, sitting between these two countries, would share their clock. However, in 1942, Franco, in an attempt to be more like his German and Italian idols/allies, joined their time zone (Central European Time), pushing Spain one hour later than its global position dictates. In the post-Franco era, during which the country tried to distance itself from all things Fascist, efforts to shift Spain back to its rightful time zone have been unsuccessful, and it remains out of whack to this day.
So, when Spaniards eat lunch at 2:00 pm and dinner at 9:00 pm, they’re simply following what the sun’s placement in the sky is telling their bodies to do – lunch is around what “feels like” 1:00 pm, when the sun is high in the sky, and dinner is at the internal hour of 8:00 pm, when this sun is somewhere in the process of setting, depending on the time of year. These eating hours, while perhaps a bit late for most Americans, are more understandable for my compatriots and more in step with other Mediterranean countries like Italy and France.
However, the off-kilter clocks are at their strangest in the summer, well after Daylight Saving’s Time (which is three weeks later in the spring and one week earlier in the fall as compared to the US), when the sky isn’t completely dark until around 10:30 pm. Just today, the official sunset in Boston is 8:13 pm, while in Madrid it’s 9:37 pm. Plus, according to a friend from Galicia, the Spanish province furthest west (not including the Canary Islands), the sky can remain bright until past 11:00 pm in the dead of summer. No wonder lunch at noon seems so ridiculous to Spaniards…
Para mis amigos bilingües, aquí tenéis un artículo interesante sobre la historia de Franco y el cambio de horario español.
Here you can see a series of photos taken from my balcony at 9:15, 9:30, 9:55, 10:05, and 10:15 on a clear night last week. It was only in the last one that the flash on my iPhone was activated.