There is a French expression, cracher son venin, that translates to “spit one’s venom.” It conveys exactly what I feel like doing to America around 1 p.m. every work day. As much as it pains me to admit that foreigners do things better than us, I have to hand it to them on this issue: The French know how to take a lunch break.
I lived in France for about four years, and I got used to stepping away for at least 30 minutes and eating in a different room or outside. Instead of looking at a computer screen or a document, I would bring my fork to my mouth, begin chewing, and actually taste my food. Sometimes there was even another person with me, or a group of people, doing the same thing. Rumor has it that other people around the world also engage in this same remarkable ritual.
In America, we’ve become increasingly averse to such an act. In California, the state Supreme Court recently ruled that employers need not ensure that workers actually take their lunch breaks. Instead, employees are free to do what they always do: Eat with a spoon in one hand and a spreadsheet in another, or inhale their sandwiches while in a mad rush to get back to their desks. God forbid anyone stop and enjoy what their lunch tastes like. Savoring food is for the weak.
Don’t tell me I’ve been brainwashed by my time in the République. I’ve hated the way Americans eat lunch for a good long time. Some of my worst memories of high school came in the cafeteria, where we would have exactly 27 minutes to acquire and consume the starchy, fried, previously frozen or canned offerings. By the time I set down my tray, I’d have seven minutes left to wolf it all down.
And then I moved to France. Glorious, food-loving France. French kids don’t always eat so healthy, what with their steak frites and ketchup on noodles (yes, really), but at least they take the time to enjoy it. At 17 and on exchange in a small French city, I was overjoyed to learn we had four days of one-hour lunch breaks and one day with a two-hour break. Gone were the days of shoving my face before rushing back to class and sneaking in snacks. Now I had time to go home or to a food stand with friends. On some days, the fluorescent cafeteria lights were replaced by the sun’s rays on our faces.
The lunch break is a chance to refresh the mind and socialize with friends and co-workers. You’ve already been in class or work all morning, and you’re about to do it again all afternoon. By taking those few moments to breathe, you come out feeling refreshed and invigorated. At work, time spent chatting with colleagues can lead to great ideas and cross-pollination between departments. And if you’ve broken bread with colleagues at lunch, it’s going to be easier to approach them in the professional sphere.
There’s a lot to be said for Americans’ strong work ethic—you won’t hear us complaining, like the French sometimes do, about arduous 35-hour workweeks. But there is also something to be said about living our days to the fullest. Dedicating a mere half hour to lunch each day isn’t going to reduce our efficiency. It will actually improve it, and make us happier, more productive workers in the long run. Listen to the French. Take that lunch break. You’ll be glad you did.