Tourists eat tapas at a terrace on Opera square in central Madrid.

Washington - A most emailed story on The New York Times website recently was about a campaign to change Spain’s time zone:

Why are Times readers so interested in whether Iberia’s biggest country leaves Central European Time to join Western European Time? It’s not because the story is new – Associated Press and Slate covered the time-change campaign last autumn.

I suspect the story’s popularity has much to do with its clever headline – “Spain, Land of 10 P.M. Dinners, Asks if it’s Time to Reset Clock” – which invites readers to gawk at Spaniards’ tendency to eat meals a few hours later than Americans do.

The article, by Jim Yardley, is a classic example of the way American publications tend to cover foreign news stories. Consider the opening paragraph, which presents Spaniards’ typical dinner time as a devastating twist: “Dipping into a bucket filled with Mahou beers, Jorge Rodríguez and his friends hunkered down on a recent Wednesday night to watch soccer at Mesón Viña, a local bar. At a nearby table a couple were cuddling, oblivious to others, as a waitress brought out potato omelettes and other dinner orders. Then the game began. At 10pm.”

At 10pm! Dios no lo quiera!

To his credit, Yardley does a good job establishing the stakes of the proposed move to bring the Spanish workday more in line with the rest of Europe. Apart from possibly, supposedly, improving economic productivity, a change would affect work-life balance for parents, television programming and, more broadly, the “culture and customs” that comprise the Spanish “way of living”.

Yardley leans rather heavily on the stereotype of the afternoon siesta, even while acknowledging that “it is not necessarily rooted in reality (siesta popularity varies from region to region)”.

But despite the headline, the Times doesn’t fully explore the Spanish mealtime regimen that stands to disappear if Spain adopts American-style nine-to-five workdays. I’ve never lived in Spain, but visiting Spain and hearing stories from starry-eyed friends have convinced me that Spanish eating habits are the eating habits of the gods. A typical Spanish day goes something like this:

* 8am: sweet pastry or churro with coffee or hot chocolate.

* 11am: savoury pastry.

* l2pm: two- or three-course meal, with optional wine.

* 6pm: small sandwich or tapas.

* 10pm: light dinner, with optional wine.

In other words, if you like to eat, Spain is that place for you, because Spanish customs encourage you to eat as often as possible.

Even better, if you’re not a morning person, Spain is also the place for you, because Spanish customs will ease you gently into the day with two small, delicious snacks that wake you up and pique your appetite for the midday meal. Not interested in taking a long break for lunch in the middle of the afternoon? Come on, everyone knows it’s impossible to stay focused for eight hours straight, the way we’re expected to on a nine-to-five schedule. It’s much better for personal productivity to get away from one’s desk for the midday meal.

And if 10pm seems far too late for dinner, keep in mind that, because of Spain’s high latitude and its idiosyncratic time zone, the sun usually doesn’t set there until 9 or 10pm. In other words, the land of 10pm dinners actually knows what it’s doing. Spain shouldn’t change its routine. We should change ours. – Slate