The French take two hours for lunch? Nobody nowadays takes two hours for lunch, I hear you say.
Two hours for lunch may seem strange and leisurely in the Anglo-Saxon world and in our fast paced business life.
Meals, according to the French, are the most enjoyable moment of the day and are an important ritual with strong cultural roots extending to personal and professional life.
The importance of food in France
Food is not only to refuel. Food is to be enjoyed and must satisfy the senses, the palate and the eyes. Hence, quality, freshness and origin become important. To know where the ingredients come from is significant, each region or country bringing its own characteristics to the product; menus in France will often quote the origin of an ingredient as a proof of attention to quality by the Chef. The same will apply to butcher shops, fishmongers, greengrocers and so on.
Enjoyable moments are meant to be shared and what better to share than around a meal. Such moments build family identities and friendship bonds on a personal level.
The lunch break
What about the professional life? A shared meal consolidates work teams. Most French workers will take a break away from their desk or work station and have lunch in the canteen, when there is one, or their favourite café. In 2016 Edenred, the corporate services enterprise, published its survey on “What is your ideal meal?” conducted among its 2,500 employees worldwide: it shows the of average lunch time break is about 30 minutes. 77% of French take more than that against 27% in the UK.
The survey also shows that three main categories for the ideal meal are food, conviviality and convenience. What is in the plate is important for the French, convenience is important in the UK.
In the UK, more often than not, colleagues may go out together to grab a sandwich and return to the office and eat it alone at their desk. It is worth noting that in the UK, there are tea breaks and snacks, not so in France.
On an executive level in France, serious business is transacted during the two hours’ lunch (sometimes longer if need be); business might as well be done in an enjoyable setting.
Lunch is also the setting for a first meeting. During that time, the two parties get to know each other and take the first steps to establish trust, or not as the case may be, with a view to maybe doing business together. Can trust this person, do I want to do business with him/her? No business is transacted, yet it is all about business.
Establishing trust is the first and foremost stage in doing business together in France; no trust, no business. It is therefore worthy of the time spent.
There is something to be learned fom this cross-cultural exchange. On a personal level, taking a lunch away from the desk or the work station refreshes the mind for the afternoon; on a professional level, getting together for lunch with colleagues builds the team and spending time to get to know the person you intend to do business with can prepare you for eventual pitfalls in the future.