Why is it forbidden to have lunch at work in France? : Coarse translation: NPR

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Young women have lunch in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris in January 1929.

Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images


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Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images


Young women have lunch in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris in January 1929.

Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

For more than a century in France, lunchtime has remained sacred. Workers across the country are rushing to sidewalk cafes and office canteens to settle in for a break that can last up to ninety minutes. Strangers share appetizers, co-workers catch up, and they try to talk about anything but work.

But conviviality is not on the menu for an American expat, English teacher Kaitlin Plachy, who often spends her lunch break alone with a salad and piles of papers to correct.

Kaitlin wrote to us about her silent rebellion against lunches with co-workers, wondering: why would a culture so committed to separating work from rest need such a law?

We walked the streets of Paris to ask this question to the guests. And – with the help of French food historian Martin Bruegel – we explore the law’s 100-year history and what 19th-century French epidemiologists realized about sick leave.

Can we convince Kaitlin to take a lunch break (in about the time you could take yours)? Sit down with your meal of choice and press play.

Additional context:

  • To read Martin’s essay on the history and importance of the French lunch law, click here.
  • Martin has been writing about food history for decades. Read his article “Martyrs de la casserole” on Parisian cooks and occupational health here, and check out his book on the birth of modern food culture here.
  • Looking for tips on how to engage with colleagues or new acquaintances over lunch? Our friends from the NPR Life Kit podcast share tips for having better conversations in this episode.

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