Parts of the day in Spain – Learn Spanish

¿Buenos días o Buenas tardes?

If you are already living in Spain you must have noticed that Spanish concept of the parts of the day is different from other countries. This is mainly due to two facts, which are related:

On the one hand working schedules in Spain are longer and later than in the rest of the world. We start working between 9-10 am and finish work at 8-9 pm. Spaniards work for about 9 hours a day, what does not necessarily mean that we work more efficiently. The lunch breaks are extremely long, mostly between 2 and 4 pm; this is not because we take a nap –maybe a short one sometimes;) or when we are on holiday, but because lunch is the main meal in Spain and most of the families cook daily and have lunch together at home.

On the other hand, and because of our working schedules, our meal times are different and also later than those in other countries. We have a small breakfast at home before getting away and make a break at 10 or 11 to have a proper breakfast, mostly in a cafeteria, otherwise we would be starving at 3! This fact is useful to know if you need to do some arrangements with your bank or with the local administration – half of the employees would be out for breakfast, so the queues and waiting time are longer. Lunch happens between 2 and 4 pm (bear in mind this is our midday!) and dinner usually after 9.

These two facts are the reason Spaniards’ concept of the parts of the day is different and a bit weird to expats living in the country and it is because we divide the day according to our eating customs. So, we say ‘Buenos días’ since we got up till lunch time (remember at around 2 pm), ‘Buenas tardes’ till 8-9 pm and ‘Buenas noches’ from then on. Our midday is not at 12.00 pm but when we have our lunch break at about 2.00 pm. (the rest of our working day is awaiting after 4.00).


And now some useful pieces of advice to avoid misunderstandings; if a Spanish person tells you ‘¿Nos tomamos una caña a mediodía ?’ they are wanting to meet up with you for a beer at around 2 pm, during their lunch break. If the plumber tells you he will turn up ‘por la mañana’ this may happen anytime from 9.00 to 2.00 and if they agree to call you back ‘por la tarde’ you can be waiting for their call for some long hours from 3-4 till 8-9. So, my advice is to try them to be more specific, always ask ‘¿A qué hora?’ if you don’t want to be waiting all the morning or afternoon. Anyway, you will probably get some vague answer like ‘Sobre las … ‘ (at around…) or ‘Entre las… y las…’ (between … and …). Yes, you need to be patient in Spain.

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