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SPANISH HISTORY

Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks back on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summertime. This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which time zone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and time zones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

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FOOD & DRINK

‘We’re going to hell’: Supermarket’s readymade fried eggs offend Spaniards

Spain's most popular supermarket Mercadona has shocked shoppers by selling pre-cooked fried eggs in plastic packaging, sparking a huge uproar among environmentalists and food lovers.

'We're going to hell': Supermarket's readymade fried eggs offend Spaniards

In a country where food is sacrosanct, gastronomic scandals that blow up on social media are not rare (we’re looking at you Jaime Oliver, and your chorizo paella).

Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona has written the latest chapter in Spain’s long list of food faux pas by selling two vacuum sealed fried eggs for €1.80.

That’s around the same price as buying a dozen uncooked eggs in Spain, but it’s not the price which has upset most Spaniards, rather the fact that something as simple and quick as cooking a couple of huevos in the frying pan is deemed too laborious and time consuming for some shoppers, according to Mercadona at least. 

The label on the packaging states “put in the microwave for 45 seconds”.

One tweet that has gone viral typifies the response of many Spaniards to this bizarre supermarket offering. “We are going to hell”, wrote Dr Elena Casado Pineda along with a photo of the packaged eggs.

Another user who posted a video of himself petrified under his bed covers, said “Mercadona selling fried eggs is the beginning of the end”’.

Several others have taken to TikTok to review Mercadona’s divisive eggs. “It tastes like an egg, even though one made at home is much better, obviously,” concluded one young influencer.

Eggs are after all a staple food product in the Spanish diet and essential for classic dishes such as the tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelette) and revueltos (scrambled eggs with other food mixed in).

Numerous Spanish media outlets have also covered ‘egg-gate’. La Sexta TV interviewed a nutritionist to get an expert opinion on Mercadona’s fried eggs and evaluate their pros and cons.

Others have highlighted the repulsion of a large part of the Spanish population, some stressing that Mercadona aren’t the first to engage in such lazy and wasteful food offerings as Carrefour sells pre-peeled and dissected tangerines.

In the case of public broadcaster RTVE, the focus was primarily on what it represented in terms of plastic waste and the country’s new laws to reduce it.

“An average person in Spain throws away 34 kilos of single-use plastic packaging a year,” Blanca Rubial of environmentalist group Amigos de la Tierra told RTVE.

Spain’s new plastic waste law will ban plastic packaging of fresh fruit and vegetables if they weigh under 1.5kg, something that won’t affect pre-cooked food such as the controversial eggs.

Others have also pointed out that for people with reduced mobility (of their hands in particular) as well as blind people, having access to pre-cooked eggs can be useful, although previous attempts to market these products to such groups haven’t proven very successful.

Mercadona has responded by saying that their packaged fried eggs are only being sold in some of its supermarkets during a trial period.

Food delivery services have increased by 80 percent in Spain over the last three years, and takeaways by 68 percent between 2019 and 2021, with the pandemic no doubt largely influencing this.

It’s a booming business and whether Spaniards would like to admit it or not, their increasingly frenetic rhythm of life means that having time to cook isn’t always their top priority, even though they are by and large food lovers and proud of their gastronomy.

That said, who can’t spare the three minutes it takes to fry an egg?

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