Whilst most of you have probably spent your summer learning how to “fuck people over for money” in a cozy office internship, I spent much of my time working on the grape harvest in a winery in Spain. The work mainly consisted on leaning down on small vines of Monastrell, cutting away at the fruit and getting covered in a sticky mess of grape skin and juice.
However, what most struck me about the back breaking work was not the intense effort involved, but the hours put into it. During my time at the winery, I worked in almost every department from packaging, accounts and marketing to picking grapes by hand. Everywhere I went people worked long hours, and they worked hard as well. The typical day consisted on arriving at the bodega at 8 am, and most employees were not on their way home before 8 pm.
It has often been asserted, particularly in the international press, that Southern European economies are in dire straits mainly as a result of their laziness. The indolent Greeks, Italians and Spaniards can’t be bothered to work hard, and so the efficient northerners have to come to the rescue. This offensive attack on whole nations, based on stereotypes rather than reasonable evidence, is disguised through the use of the word “culture”. These countries can’t help being lazy, you see, because it is ingrained in their very culture. This claim, apart from having worryingly eugenicist connotations, is quite simply incorrect.
The ultimate example of Spain’s supposed idleness is the siesta. The need to have a nap half-way through the day, so the argument goes, makes the whole country inefficient. In fact, apart from the fact that the siesta is actually quite uncommon in most jobs nowadays, it doesn’t mean that Spaniards work less. To make up for a larger lunch break, Spanish workers toil late into the evening; thus, even discounting a forty-minute nap after work, the typical spaniard ends up working more hours than the average nine to five job.
But what about fiesta? Surely the Spanish tendency to stay up all night partying means that even during their hours of work they are incapable of working properly. Well,just because rowdy English tourists encounter nothing but all-night fiesta on their revelries in Torremolinos, Benidorm and Malaga doesn’t mean that the whole country is one big booze-induced party. Indeed, not only do Spaniards party a lot less than people like to think, but the lack of a self-destructive alcohol culture such as that of Britain means that a Spaniard can wake up the next morning with a much clearer head than the average Brit.
Blaming Spain’s – and indeed the rest of Southern Europe’s problems on a form of cultural lethargy ignores the real issues behind their economic troubles. Spain has suffered an awful economic crisis not because its people are lazy, but due to systemic corruption, inefficient bureaucracy, an unrealistic construction boom with an inevitable bust, and a serious issue with black money and informal employment.
Spain has a lot of issues – but a lazy country is something that they certainly are not.