How Time Zones Affect a Country’s Culture


Depending on where in the world you live, your time zone is aligned so that you wake up sometime around sunrise, and depending on the season, retire for the night around sunset. Throughout history, that is how cities and towns kept their local times, by watching the sun’s position in the sky. Time zones were only officially established in the U.K. and the U.S. once railroad companies decided they needed ways to establish and maintain accurate railroad schedules. 

In Russia, a country that spans close to 6,000 miles end to end, citizens grapple with 11 different time zones.

But as the world modernized and countries developed individual governments and distinct borders, time zones came to be viewed as less of something tethered to an astrological occurrence, and more of something that could be adjusted to the needs of the people. 

In most cases, established time zones help facilitate efficiency. However, several countries continue to struggle with time-related issues. For instance, in Russia, a country that spans close to 6,000 miles end to end, citizens grapple with 11 different time zones. While that means it can be difficult doing business throughout the country, or avoiding television spoilers, it does come with an odd perk: Travelers can fly from Vladivostok, a Russian port city on the Pacific Ocean, to Moscow in eight hours, and thanks to a seven-hour time difference, travelers will only lose one hour.

In 1912, China established five time zones for regions across the country’s approximately 3,100 miles. This worked well until 1949, when the country’s new communist regime placed the entire country on Beijing time. Now, sunrise time in Harbin, China, the capital of China’s northernmost province, is around 4:30 a.m., while sunrise time in Kashgar, a city in western China, occurs around three and a half hours later. And while Beijing time is used unquestionably in most of eastern China, provinces in the western half often resort to their own timetables to align with natural daylight hours.


In Spain, the workday starts at around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., and includes a multi-hour midday siesta at around 2 p.m. Post-siesta work continues as late as 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. 

But perhaps the most pronounced time zone-related issue today is in Spain. During the Second World War, Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco adjusted the country’s time zone forward an hour in a move to align itself with Nazi Germany. The U.K. and France also adjusted their time zones to account for the war (France to align with Germany and the U.K. to give their soldiers more daylight hours to work), but the U.K. eventually shifted back to Greenwich Mean Time, while Spain and France chose to keep Central European Time. For France, it wasn’t an enormous shift, as part of the country borders Germany. For Spain, a country that is on the same longitude as the U.K., parts of Ireland and Morocco, it is now an hour ahead of where it should be. 

Spain sits in the same Central European Time zone as countries as far east as Poland. As a result, the sun rises in Warsaw, the eastern-situated capital of Poland, at around 6:45 in the morning. In Santiago de Compostela, the capital of northwest Spain’s Galicia region, the sun rises around an hour later. This has resulted in what some believe to be the entire basis of the country’s late morning starts, long work days and even later nights.

Spain’s National Commission for the Rationalization of Working Hours released a report that says, “We need more flexible working hours, to cut our lunch breaks, to streamline business meetings by setting time limits for them, and to practice and demand punctuality … This would raise productivity, lower absenteeism and accidents, as well as reducing drop-out rates from school.”

In 1912, China established five time zones for regions across the country’s approximately 3,100 miles.

With the government calling to shift the clocks back an hour, citizens are wondering whether the culture would change. While the common Spanish workday starts around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., there is a multi-hour midday siesta around 2 p.m., though most workers use the time as an elongated lunch. Post-siesta, work continues until as late as 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., leaving little time for dinner or other family activities. Moving the clocks back means that people would have more morning daylight to enjoy, and ideally, be more alert come start time at work. 

“I think it’ll have an effect in terms of productivity. People will be more aligned with other countries and would be able to get to work earlier and then have a bit more time in the evening with families,” says Adolfo Ramirez-Escuerdo, chairman of Capital Markets in Continental Europe and CEO of CBRE Spain. “Nowadays what happens is people do business over lunch; by the time you leave [the office] and come back, it creates a big pause in the middle of the day so we end up finishing later. It would be more natural to be aligned with the sun.”


Sign up to receive our Weekly Newsletter