It’s August which means everything is shut and everyone is away. No joke, most local businesses are closed right now.
We had been seeing all the “see you again in September!” signs all over everything but weren’t taking it seriously. Some places closed for vacation and are now re-opening. It seemed like some places were staggering their vacations. So we thought we would get all of our chores done. The following is the true story of one day (Monday, August 20th).
We went to the town hall to ask about a background check for next year. The lights were literally off and a texting secretary sitting in the dark said, “yeah, no. Try the police station.” So we went to the police station.
In a room of 7 desks, only one was occupied. The police guy was very nice and tried to help us but the police’s website was down (for scheduled August maintenance) So he gestured to the dim and empty room and apologized “Try September 3rd.”
We had woken up early to get these errands done and thought we would reward ourselves with some churros. But the local churro restaurant was closed.
So we went down to our local stationary store to try to print something important out but they’re gone, too.
Finally we needed to talk to our internet guy about cancelling our internet when we leave – of course they’re gone, too. No picture because how many pictures can I really include that show closed up shops with printed A4 papers saying “sorry”?
We’re not exaggerating when we say 90% of local shops are closed. The pictures at the top showed a veterinarian and dentist closed – so it’s not just restaurants or clothing shops. Everyone deserves some vacation – important things usually coordinate (so not every dentist in town is closed, this might just be their”turn” to go during these weeks).
It’s not just Spain, August means almost all of Europe is “closed.” Traditionally everyone would close for the whole month but in modern times it’s only 2 weeks.
France shuts down sometime after Bastile Day and parts don’t reopen until September 1st. Everyone else seems to use the same holiday which acts as a trigger to shut everything down: August 15th: Italy calls it Ferragosto, Germany calls it “Mariae Himmelfahrt,” Spain says “Dia de la Virgen de la Asuncion.” August 15th is a big ol’ holiday for Catholics -The Feast of the Assumption of Mary to celebrate Jesus’s mama. But most places use this national holiday day to kick off their long vacation for the rest of the month.
We could hear a difference in traffic that week, instead of hearing commuters heading to work at 8-9 we accidentally slept in until 11 because no one was driving and honking. We took a walk and of the 10 people we saw outside all of them had suitcases and luggage and were packing up to leave.
If things can’t shut down they’re operating under reduced hours. The city bus barely has 7 buses to and from Jaen daily (if you miss the last one you’re screwed!). A man who drives around town with a huge loudspeaker announcing city-wide events has just taken to driving around playing music.
Why does the entire continent (give or take) leave for a whole month/most of the month?
It started with the Industrial Revolution – assembly lines/factories don’t exactly work without the whole staff present. It made more sense to give everyone the exact same time off rather than some people leaving here or there.
It also gives local businesses a chance to relax. Having a family owned business/pharmacy/restaurant is hard. Most of the time it’s just the family or a couple trusted employees working (paying an employee means sending money out rather than into the family’s pockets so most family members just work 6-7 days a week).
Our favorite restaurant has the same 3 employees day in and day out. They work very hard. We seriously see them every single day.
The internet shop beneath our apartment has only one guy every single day. He works 6 days a week (everyone takes Sundays off).
They have earned two weeks of no-guilt vacation time.
Everyone else is doing it
At least in villages (not towns) if you’re the only local business open you’re a fool who is losing money. No one else is even in the village to eat at your restaurant or to buy your clothes/bikes/stationary – they’re all out of town on vacation. So you’d be better off shutting down and leaving too.
A chance to reset
Finally it’s a chance to reset. When you can close (because everyone else is closing anyway) you have to get rid of all the food in your freezer, you have to pile all the patio furniture into the restaurant and you have to close everything up.
It’s a time where everything is allowed to be closed so you might as well do a reset. When they reopen they can give everything a big deep clean. We’ve seen loads of people (who took different August hours and are starting to open now) deep cleaning every chair, every table and every window pane.
When you re-open you can start again with a different menu or fresher food or a cleaner restaurant. This is also traditional from Industrial Revolution when all employees would be gone. They would have a chance to clean and repair everything in the factory with all the machines off.
Even websites (the police website) are down for scheduled maintenance because everyone should be at the beach, not doing background checks.
Is everything really closed?
Pretty much everything locally owned has shut down. Restaurants, bars, internet/phone stores, stationary stores, print shops, bedding and clothing stores, a bike repair shop, the kid’s party place are all shut.
Chain restaurants/stores are open with some operating under altered hours.
The pharmacies/vets/dentists all have a rotating schedule so that people have access to medicine/help. But some are having their “turn” to close – so it’s reduced.
It’s not necessarily a ghost town out there but almost. Although it is worth mentioning that big cities with lots of tourism do not shut down like this. This is a fun, unique village thing. We’re happy to have seen it but we’re taking a page from their books and heading off on one last Andalusian Hurrah before we move.
As they say “Nos vemos en septiembre!” We’ll see you in September!