france allows workers to eat lunch at their work desks covid

French Can Eat Lunch at Work Desks, Culture Shock

Soon the French can eat lunch at their work desks.

Say that again? Culture Shock, anyone?

To help curb the spread of COVID-19, the French Labor Ministry is relaxing a ban that prevents employees from eating at their desks at work.

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Under French Labor Law (Article R4228-19), it has been prohibited for French workers to eat inside work premises.

To make it easier for people who can’t go home to eat and can’t go out to eat (while restaurants are closed in France to slow COVID-19 transmission), the (temporary) law change is to give workers a safe place to eat.

If this eating at work ban sounds nuts to you, you’re not alone.

I happen to be one of those people who LOVE to eat while I work at the computer. I’m actually sipping tea right now as I write this.

Until recently, French businesses could face fines and employees could be subject to disciplinary action for eating at their workstations or desks during the traditional French lunch break.

According to one source, French labor law also bans “”moments of conviviality at work,’ and requires workers to limit their social interaction as much as possible, including having a coffee break with a coworker or eating together in a common area.”

Oh la la… Je ne comprends pas! This law and blows my American Mind.

French Take Lunch Seriously

As an American in France, I can tell you the French don’t mess around when it comes to lunch. It’s a sacred “time out” period.

But then again the French don’t mess around with the way things are done, if that’s the way things are done. A sort of… why would we step out of our comfort zone and change, if we don’t have to.

And the French don’t just limit this thinking to lunch, it also applies to paperwork and phone calls–and a general distrust of technology or online sites, banking, or interfaces to make life more efficient.

But…back to lunch….

Lunch is taken so seriously, that many return home for the 12-2pm (a.k.a. 12-14h) lunch break. Lunch is so important that even road construction halts at noon, regardless of what’s happening. Oh, the stories I could tell.

And… at noon pretty much everything closes to accommodate lunch.

On my street, everyday around noon, my little street transforms into a highway. Nearly everyone in the neighborhood comes home from work, school, or wherever they happen to be for lunch. People wish each other a good lunch once noon rolls around–and just assume that you are going home for lunch.

Oh… if you’re someone who happens to prefer eating on your own schedule, and choose that time to do something non-lunch-like between 12-2pm, like go for a jog, don’t be surprised when the French look at you, like Que Fait-Elle?

Change is Good

Don’t get me wrong, I love France. I love French culture. But I’m also a fierce believer in embracing change and progress.

Maybe that’s the American in me. Maybe that’s simply because I recognize that the world is going to keep moving and evolving regardless of what France does, even if it means France gets left behind in the economic dust.

But maybe it’s because I recognize that life is always changing. Nothing ever stays still or the same. That’s something cool about life and our time on this planet.

While I know there is real fear about becoming too Americanized in France, having lunch at your desk hardly seems to be American.

It is smart and practical.

Plus, I think people should be able to choose something as basic as when they want to ingest food and where. After all, French workers are adults.

And they should also be able to go to work and enjoy socializing with their colleagues at work, over amazing French coffee.

And neither workers or their employers should have to worry about fines. After all, doesn’t the government seriously have better things to focus on?

More Progress Please

France is beautiful. French food is incredible. And I love French people and the way of life that is oddly high strung meets chill.

However, from my short experience in France, I think there are many areas where the government’s attention could be redirected from the lunch desk debate. For example:

  • France is trying to ban homeschooling right now. Homeschooling is the future. It was also once the past. Homeschooling cultivates creativity, which is essential to the future technology workforce and international competitiveness. Homeschooling is also essential for children and families who travel frequently or who have medical issues. It is also a necessary option for children who have experienced bullying or worse within the French school system. Homeschooling is also something parents should be able to choose because they are know their children best and should have freedom to choose how to raise them (and as it is, France has an extensive and rigorous homeschool inspection process…quite invasive compared to the USA…and those checks should suffice on child wellbeing and to evaluate progress). France could spend more time in supporting the 55,000+ homeschoolers in the country.
  • I’ve read and heard many French say that the schools and French system doesn’t recognize, help, or accommodate children with special needs. As, well, rumor (and statistics) say that the French school system lags behind other major countries in at least the area of math. I’ve also heard the school system needs a major overhaul. France could spend more time on overhauling the school system.
  • I’ve read and heard that France doesn’t take handling domestic violence seriously. I’ve seen complaint after complaint in online forums about neighborhood domestic disturbances and the response is generally the same: it doesn’t matter until it’s too late. Hello, France. Lunch at desks vs. saving lives?
  • I’ve read, heard, and experienced that alternative medicine isn’t taken seriously enough and study programs are still regarded as fringe or prohibited. This includes treatment for psychology, talk therapy, acupuncture, and lack of recognition for mental health. Seriously, it’s 2021. It’s just lunch, France. Put the resources to better use.

Lunch + Traffic Jams

France could also spend more time focusing on the environment, especially where all this lunch traffic is involved.

Thanks to the mandated lunch break, there are actually FOUR rush hours in France — (1) going to work; (2) going home for lunch; (3) going back to work after lunch; and (4) going home after work.

Sure, lunch may be important as a tradition, but the environment matters, too.

Fear of Americanization

While France seems to resist Americanization, it’s apparent by the ridiculous daily car pile up at the Burger King and McDonald’s in my neighborhood that French people want a bite of the perks of Americanization, like convenience and flexibility.

Seriously, I wouldn’t mind being able to find a place to buy tampons on a Sunday afternoon. (But no…stores are closed in my area…because French people apparently need coordinated work breaks). Last I checked, needing tampons on Sunday afternoons isn’t just an American thing.

My heart breaks for the young French generations who are trying to balance French culture with the “other ways” things are done in the world (e.g., work opportunities, competitiveness, and pace of life). For example, kids my children’s ages in France rarely work–teen jobs really aren’t a thing–and that seems to leave teens doing who knows what. Yet, they seem to idolize teens in other parts of the world on social media, who are doing cool things… And I wonder if they are thinking, why can’t that be me? Why can’t I easily do those things here in my country without resistance to change?

With the growing influence of social media, French teens, young people, and some other more worldly, forward thinking people seem to be starting to recognize that there are other ways to life.

Ways that can remain French, but also invite change, competitiveness, financial reward, and creativity. But there definitely seems to be cultural resistance.

Maybe eating lunch at work is the spark that starts a revolution.

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