If you know me, you will know that I dislike national or racial stereotypes. Comments like "all Scotsmen are mean" or "the Spanish are a lazy lot" make my hackles rise. So here are some of the generalisations commonly made about the Spanish, harvested mainly from expat blogs, with an attempt to challenge the prejudice with hard facts.
The Spanish are always having public holidays - they are hardly ever at work! No wonder the economy is in such a mess.
There are 14 statutory public holidays in Spain compared to 8 in the UK. But they get a smaller annual leave allowance here. If you add them together, it works out the same in both countries:
"Overall, including the statutory minimum and public holidays, employees in Lithuania are potentially entitled to the greatest amount of paid leave in Europe with 41 days’ holiday per year. France, Finland and Russia rank second with 40 days, followed by Austria and Malta (38), Greece (37) and Sweden, Spain and the UK (36). Employees in Italy have 31 while those in Germany, Romania and Belgium have 30. Employees in Ireland and the Netherlands have the least amount of holiday at 29 and 28 days, respectively."
Employee statutory and public holiday entitlements – global comparisons
When a public holiday occurs on a Thursday or Tuesday, a lot small businesses and shops take the intervening day off to form a "puente" (bridge) between the holiday and the weekend. This practice is declining however. Many Spanish people spend their time off visiting their families rather than going abroad, so more frequent short breaks probably suits them better.
Spanish shops don't open on Sunday because the Church won't allow it
This was certainly the case under Franco's Catholic Nationalism regime, but commercial liberalisation in the 1980s allowed unrestricted Sunday shopping. It was pressure from independent family-run shops, who couldn't afford to pay staff on Sundays, that restrictions were reintroduced. Each autonomous community makes its own rules: in Andalusia the big chain-stores are allowed to open eight Sundays a year; bakers and bookshops (!) can open on Sundays if they want to.
Wikipedia: Sunday opening hours
Personally I love the fact that shops don't open on Sundays. In the UK Sunday is just like any other day now, and people go shopping because they are bored rather than because they need something, spending money they don't have. Sunday is definitely a family day in Spain.
The Spanish siesta involves going to bed and sleeping for a few hours in the afternoons
I haven't met anyone who does this. However lunch is the main meal of the day and is taken around 2 pm, following which some people may take a 20-minute cat-nap in an armchair if they have time. Agricultural and construction workers often start work at daybreak, around 7 a.m. in summer. and work until 2, so it wouldn´t be surprising if they had a kip after lunch - some of them go back to work in the evening for another two or three hours. The practice of closing shops and offices for three or four hours in the afternoon is due to the heat, especially in the southern half of the country where it can reach 40 degrees C in the summer and 35 is normal in July and August. Air conditioning is a fairly recent phenomenon and still considered a luxury in rural areas. In Northern Spain, particularly Catalonia, more and more companies are adopting the European business hours.
Spanish life - the siesta
The Spanish are terrible drivers and have one of the worst accident rates in Europe.
I never fail to be impressed by how my neighbours manage to manoeuvre in impossibly small places and reverse into garages opening onto streets just a few feet wide and on a 25% hill. They are not terrible drivers, but there is no doubt many of them do drive erratically. However in 2006 the fatality rate on Spain's roads was slightly lower than the European average and with the introduction of a demerit points system in that year it has since fallen by nearly 40%.
European Road Safety stats
Dirección General de Trafico statistics
There are various suggestions for the erratic driving style of many Spaniards and I guess the real truth is a mixture of all these. Machismo certainly plays a part; men don't appear to enjoy being overtaken (especially by blondes in right-hand-drive cars). Many older drivers never learnt how to handle roundabouts or dual carriageway slip roads because they simply didn't exist in rural Spain until the EU roadbuilding programme started in the late 1980s. Then there is what seems to be a general tendency to react rather than to anticipate - this has been observed in many areas of the Spanish psyche, from the government's failure to plan ahead in the economic crisis, to pedestrians not getting out of the road until your car is a few feet from them.
This is fun, I'll do some more tomorrow!