We had two glorious days staying in the mountains about an hour outside Granada - on the edge of the Sierra Nevada. A long-lost schoolfriend Sarah Benchley and her husband John moved up here from Granada to farm olives and almonds, and kindly offered to have us to stay. They have chickens and live largely off their own produce - veges, eggs, fruit, nuts etc - which they grow with the help of a series of international volunteers. These latter (while we were there it was two English chefs and a young Polish couple, an engineer and a lawyer) exchange five hours of work a day for full board and lodging. It seemed pretty idyllic to us - though I'm sure it has its downsides too, like relying on solar power and spring water, and being pretty isolated in winter.
The work day at the farm, with its seriously extended break during the middle part of the day surprised and enchanted us, as we'd never encountered it before, even in other hot countries. Work stopped at 12.30pm and didn't start up again until 6.30, with final knock-off at 8.30pm. Over the afternoon period there was preparation and eating of a leisurely lunch (the main meal of the day), a swim, a bit of TV watching, sometimes a siesta.
And while a six-hour afternoon break is a reflection of the volunteers' short working day, we discovered having a 2-3-hour lunch break is normal in Spain. The average Spaniard starts work somewhere between 9 and 10am, has a coffee mid morning and then breaks at 2pm for a long lunch, resuming work 2-3 hours later and continuing until 8pm, or even later. Dinner happens very late; bed even later - going to sleep at midnight on a working day isn't unusual.
I suspect this works brilliantly in rural farming areas, particularly in summer, where people can nip home for lunch and a sleep and avoid toiling in the fields in the heat of the day. But it seems a bit crazy in an air-conditioned city environment, where it just means a long, disjointed working day, people spending up to 13 hours a day away from home, and serious problems with children and parents spending time together after school.
More than three years ago, a Spanish parliamentary commission recommended moving to a more normal 9-5 day, but so far only the Catalonia region, in the north-east of the country is even close to making any changes. A deal between trade unions, some employers, educators and social campaigners announced earlier this year aimed at introducing a more "flexible and productive" regime by 2025.
The rest of Spain may follow.
I sort of hope my friend Sarah does not.