ANALYSIS: How the pandemic could change Spanish work and social culture permanently

Typical Spanish working and socialising habits we once took for granted are in danger of disappearing forever, writes Graham Keeley in Barcelona.

ANALYSIS: How the pandemic could change Spanish work and social culture permanently
Gone is the carefree attitude to socializing. Now every meeting is about weighing up the risks. Photo: AFP

Paella is Spain's trademark dish which is normally enjoyed straight from the pan among friends in a bustling restaurant.

A great paella chef once taught me to take my time savouring the way the rice mixes with the flavours of seafood or the meat.

However, the other day, on a visit to a friend's house by the sea, I got a glimpse of how typically Spanish habits like this are changing.

Our hosts did not want to eat out in a restaurant for fear of contracting COVID-19 so instead brought the paella home.

It did not make any difference to our enjoyment of the food but it was a subtle change in how we are starting to live.

That set me thinking about how the Spanish way of life may be altering as we face the uncomfortable possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Perhaps the best way is to start with the best meal of the day – breakfast.

When I started living here, I was hugely impressed by the way Spaniards started the day.

Most don't eat anything until they get into work. Then, after they have clocked on/turned on the computer/checked their emails- they do the logical thing and head out to have breakfast, which is an office ritual.

Breakfast in the bar around the corner from the office was the typical way to start the day. Photo: Juan Fernandez / Flickr

This can consist of a bocadillo or a croissant washed down with a coffee or even a beer. (Starting the day with a beer while at work always won my utmost respect).

However, this morning ritual doesn't look like such a good idea. As the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise, arriving with a gaggle of office workers at a cafe might make some nervous.

That said, just arriving in the office itself might not be what many people want to do just now.

Quite how many people are still teletrabajando at home is not known as no survey of the working population has emerged so far.

As the schools prepare to go back next week for the first time since March, the Spanish government is expected to bring in a law which will make working at home legally part of the job for millions.

Employees will be allowed the right to carry out between 20 and 30 percent of their job responsibilities from home(if the job allows for this).

Quite how much time can be spent teletrabajando depends on the final deal ironed out by the government, business leaders and unions.

Whatever the law finally says, it will represent a revolution in Spain. It will set in stone rights to work hours, digital disconnection and claiming back any costs run up if you work at home.

Until now, the culture in most Spanish offices has been one of presenteeism.

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I worked in a Spanish newspaper office for ten years and saw for myself how people would stay long into the evening doing not very much.

There seemed to be a divide along sexual lines.

Most men, who were usually the bosses, would stay late or even go for a drink afterwards.

The majority of women, in contrast, would generally try to escape to waiting children.

Then there were other women, whose children were older or who did not have families, who seemed to hang around in the office doing precious little.

One gets the sense that this is about to change in Spain.

During lockdown and afterwards, many people I spoke to said they were in no hurry to return to the office.

Photo: AFP


One friend has even taken to convening meetings at her home, with her boss coming to her. She does not have to troop into the office- for now anyway.

Of course, this could have drawbacks if your work life perhaps becomes too involved with your home life. But perhaps that is one to worry about later. 

Perhaps another way that habits have changed is how we socialise.

The long lunches with a glass of brandy or a cigar at the end were already on the decline. 
More people have taken to eating at their desks. 
Perhaps now  these traditions will become a thing of the past, sadly.  
Eating out is an essential pleasure of Spanish life. Most restaurants are reasonably priced and the weather usually allows for a pleasant sobremesa afterwards to let the food go down.

Of course, COVID-19 has put the kibosh on all that. For now, anyway, meals are not the relaxed, leisurely affairs they once were.

Now you have to weigh up the risk versus the pleasure when you think of going out for a meal, a drink or meeting up with people.

It might not change the way we behave permanently but it seems this pandemic is not – as they said at the start of the First World War –  going to be over before Christmas.

Despite the announcement that Spain will begin trials on a vaccine this autumn, rolling it out across the country is still a long way off.



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .





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New Covid-19 wave in Sweden ‘to peak at end of September’

Sweden's Public Health Agency has warned of a new autumn wave of Covid-19 which it expects to peak at the end of September.

New Covid-19 wave in Sweden 'to peak at end of September'

According to both of the two new scenarios published by the agency on Monday, infection rates are set to rise steadily over the next month, something the agency said was due to a falling immunity in the population and greater contact between people as they return to schools and workplaces after the summer. 

“It is difficult to say how high the peak will be, but it is unlikely that it will reach the same levels as in January and February,” the agency’s unit chief Sara Byfors said in a press release. “The most important thing is that people in risk groups and those who are 65 years old and above get vaccinated with a booster dose in the autumn to reduce the risk of serious illness and death.” 

Under Scenario 0, the amount of contact between people stays at current levels, leading to a peak in reported Covid-19 cases at around 5,000 a day. In Scenario 1, contact between people increases by about 10 percent from the middle of August, leading to a higher peak of about 7,000 reported cases a day. 

The agency said that employers should be prepared for many staff to be off sick simultaneously at points over the next month, but said in its release that it did not judge the situation to be sufficiently serious to require either it or the government to impose additional infection control measures. 

It was important, however, it said, that those managing health and elderly care continued to test those with symptoms and to track the chain of infections, that people go and get the booster doses when they are supposed to have under the vaccination programme, and that those who have symptoms of Covid-19 stay home.