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INDUSTRY & TRADE

Lorry driver strike which threatened online Christmas shopping in Spain called off

Transport unions and the Spanish government reached a last-minute agreement which means that lorry drivers will not strike from December 20th to 22nd, a move which was set to disrupt online shopping ahead of Christmas in Spain. 

lorry driver in spain at port
The strike would have meants tens of thousands of delivered wouldn't have been able to take place in Spain days before Christmas. Photo: Jim WATSON / AFP

Spain’s National Road Transport Committee (CNTC) on Friday called off the strike that lorry drivers were preparing to carry out just days before Christmas after reaching a last-minute agreement on improvements for the sector with Spain’s Ministry of Transport.

The move should mean that online shopping orders that would have been unable to be carried out in time before Christmas can now theoretically be delivered, although the holdups may have already caused many shoppers in Spain to look for other options. 

The Spanish government has described the agreement as “historic”, as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Transport Minister Raquel Sánchez referred to the improvements to lorry drivers’ work conditions as “essential” and “strategic” for the sector.

Among the main agreed measures are the ban on drivers carrying out loading and unloading responsibilities (except for certain exceptions), halving logistical waiting times for drivers, the requirement to review extra transport costs brought on rising petrol prices, no new tolls for heavy transport vehicles and safe parking for trucks. 

The Spanish government has committed to these changes coming into force within the next 60 days. 

There have been concerns that the lorry driver shortages and other haulage problems that have plagued the United Kingdom in recent months could also become a reality in Spain, so it is in the country’s best interest to improve conditions for its lorry drivers. 

“It’s not an attractive job, it’s hard, Juan José Gil, secretary general of Spain’s Federation of Transport Associations (FENASISMER) told Spanish newspaper Voz Populi.

“Drivers spend many days away from home, they do their job in three cubic metres and they’re alone”. 

Spain is lacking at least 5,000 heavy duty vehicle drivers and according to the UETR (the European Road Hauliers Association) the continent as a whole has to recruit 400,000 drivers to cover its needs.  

As is also happening in the UK, young lorry drivers are becoming increasingly harder to recruit in Spain. 

“72 percent of professional drivers are over 50 years of age, meaning only one in four is under 50 years of age in Spain,” according to Ramón Valdivia, general director of Spain’s Association of International Road Transport (ASTIC).

“The British situation is painful but it serves to show that we’re all in this together,” he told Voz Populi.

“The demand for the mobility of goods and people is growing. Society demands more and more that goods be taken to more places, faster and more efficiently, and there are fewer and fewer people capable of doing it”.

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PROPERTY

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Despite being known for its year-long sunny weather, Spain is the EU country with the fewest homes with natural light, often intentionally. Why is it that when it comes to spending time at home, Spaniards seem to love being in the dark?

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Spain – the land of sunshine. The country gets between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of sun per year on average, almost double the 1,600 hours the UK gets, for example.

You’d probably assume that finding a bright apartment in such a sunny country would be a piece of cake, but unless you’re renting or buying a modern home, it might be trickier than you realise.

More than one in ten Spaniards live in dwellings they feel are “too dark” – the highest percentage among all EU countries, according to figures from Eurostat.

As far as dark homes go, Spain is head and shoulders above the EU average of 5.9 percent, and higher than other nations with a high rate of gloomy homes such as France (9.5 percent), Malta (9.4 percent) and Hungary (7.7 percent).

At the other end of the brightly lit spectrum, it’s no surprise to see that countries with cloudier skies and darker winters such as Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Czechia and the Netherlands have homes that let in plenty of natural light, and yet Spain’s sun-kissed Mediterranean neighbours Italy and Cyprus do make the most of the readily available light.

Dark homes are almost twice as common in Spain as the EU average. Graph: Eurostat.

So why are Spanish homes so dark?

Is it a case of hiding away from the sun, and keeping cool during the summer months? Or is it something else? 

Apartment blocks

The vast majority of Spaniards live in apartments as opposed to houses, often in tightly-packed cities with narrow streets.

In fact, in Spain 64.6 percent of the population lives in flats or apartments, second in the EU after Latvia (65.9 percent.)

By contrast the EU wide average is 46.1 percent.

By nature of apartment living, Spanish homes tend to get less sunlight.

Depending on whether they have an exterior or interior flat, they might not actually have a single window in the flat that faces the street.

If the apartment is on a lower floor, the chances of it receiving natural light are even lower. Internal patios can help to solve this to some extent, but only during the mid day and early afternoon hours. 

why are spanish homes so dark

A dark, narrow street in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Photo: seth0s/Pixabay

Hot summers

During Spain’s scorching summer months, there’s no greater relief than stepping into a darkened apartment building lobby and feeling the temperature drop. 

In southern Spain, and in coastal regions, Spanish buildings were traditionally built to protect against the heat and hide away from the long sunny hours. White walled exteriors and dark interiors help to keep homes cool.

It’s often the case that bedrooms are put in the darkest, coolest part of the apartment, sometimes with just a box-window to allow for a breeze but no sunlight.

Spaniards’ obsession with blinds and shutters

Spain is pretty much the only country in Europe whose inhabitants still use blinds (persianas), even during the colder winter months.

In this case, rather than it just being down to keeping homes cool during the sweltering summer months, their usage is intrinsic to Spain’s Moorish past and the fact that they provide a degree of privacy from nosy neighbours. By contrast, northern Europeans with Calvinist roots such as the Dutch keep the curtains open to let in natural light and because historically speaking, keeping the inside of homes visible from the street represents not having anything to hide. But in Spain, the intimacy of one’s home is sacrosanct, especially when the neighbour in the apartment building opposite is less then ten metres away.

Keeping the blinds or shutters down also has the advantage of making it easier to have an afternoon nap (the siesta, of course) or to sleep in late after a long night out on the town. 

In any case, it seems hard to believe for some foreigners that many Spaniards are happy to live in the dark whilst spending time at home, regardless of whether they’re sleeping or not. 

A byproduct of this? Dark, gloomy homes.

why are spanish homes so dark

Spaniards aren’t fans of airing their dirty laundry, at least metaphorically speaking. Blinds have historically provided the privacy they’ve wanted from their homes. Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

The long, dark corridors

Spanish apartments have plenty of quirks that seem odd to outsiders, from the light switches being outside of the room, the aforementioned shutters, the bottles of butane and last but not least, the never-ending corridors. 

Most Spanish homes built in the 19th and 20th century include these long pasillos running from the entrance to the end of the flat. They were meant to provide a separation between the main living spaces and the service rooms (kitchen, bathroom etc), easy access to all and better airing and light capabilities. But when the doors to the rooms are closed as often happens, these corridors become the opposite of what was intended: dark and airless.

Navigating these windowless corridors at night is akin to waking around blindfolded.

dark corridor spain

Light at the end of the tunnel? Dark corridors are a common feature of Spanish homes. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Are Spaniards rethinking their dark homes?

Times are changing, and modern designs are experimenting with more spacious, light-filled, open-plan apartments, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown forced many Spaniards to reconsider their abodes. 

It’s also increasingly common to see property ads stressing that the property is diáfano, which means that natural light enters the home from all sides.

However, the vast majority of Spanish homes are still gloomy for the most part, often intentionally.

A combination of traditional building styles, the crowded nature of apartment block living, the use of shutters, the desire to keep homes private, and the long windowless corridors mean Spanish flats can seem dark if you’re new to the country, and with good reason.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering that Spanish society is one that largely lives its life outdoors. Living in smaller apartments, Spaniards generally spend less time at home and more time out and about in the street.

Native to a hot and sunny country as they are, Spaniards’ homes are a place of rest, relaxation and, crucially, sleep.

Spanish people have enough sunlight and heat in their lives; they like to live, therefore, in homes designed to keep cool and dark.

READ ALSO: Why are Spanish homes so cold?

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