When I started working in Paris, my deeply rooted American habits came into sharp contrast with the cultural nuances of the French workplace. These differences, as well as the decidedly slower pace at which work progresses here, were often a source of frustration for me. But as I became increasingly immersed in French culture, I eventually succumbed to their inimitable art de vivre, a way of living that invites one to unapologetically indulge hedonistic desires. This ethos also carries over into the workplace, giving the French the luxury to do lunch as lunch should be done.
The pause déjeuner, or midday meal break, continues to be an integral part of the daily routine in France in spite of the accelerated demands of an increasingly digitized society. Though the three-course meal spanning two hours is on the decline, lunch is still a bona fide break in the day for a leisurely meal often enjoyed with colleagues. By comparison, many American workers tend to stay tethered to their desks. The notion of hastily eating lunch in front of a computer remains relatively foreign to the French. In fact, their labor laws prohibit people from eating at their desks for sanitary reasons.
Lunch is such an important element of French culture, that partially subsidized meals come with the many other benefits of working here. Companies either serve complete meals at significantly reduced prices at an on-site cafeteria or provide employees with meal vouchers valued at 9-11€ that are redeemable at restaurants, boulangeries or grocery stores. Thanks to this perk, I have dined my way around Paris without breaking the bank.
Well before the lunch hour, food is already on the minds of many of my co-workers. Once they have had their morning espresso, their first order of business is usually deciding where to lunch. The number of Slack channels that we have dedicated to food and lunch spots is a testament to how seriously they take lunch here. Working in the heart of Paris, we have no shortage of dining options from the French classics to cuisines from around the world. While a handful of my co-workers often opt for the modern convenience of delivery services like Nestor and UberEats, I prefer to explore Parisian restaurants or picnic along the banks of the Seine or at the nearby Jardin des Plantes.
If I have learned anything about living and working in France, it is that our professional lives do not have to be all-consuming and that balance is achievable. Once I recalibrated my expectations and aligned my daily rhythm with that of the French, what I saw as workplace annoyances eventually faded into an afterthought. A long day at the office does not have to be without intermission and moments of leisure. Despite impending deadlines and finite hours, we can choose to step away from our desks for a moment to replenish our energy reserves and to relish our meal while lingering over it a little bit longer.
Contributor Nita Ngo is a Vietnamese-Amercian culinary aficionada residing in the outskirts of Paris. Through her blog Plated Palate, she explores the cuisine of her adopted home country as well as her cultural roots through the foods of her family’s native Vietnam.