Why is it Forbidden to Eat Lunch at Work in France? : Rough Translation In 2021, France suspended a law that forbids eating lunch at work. We talk to an American teacher relieved to see it go and a French historian determined to bring it back.

Lunching@Work: When Eating at Your Desk Is Forbidden


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Young women eat lunch in the Tuileries Garden in Paris in January 1929. Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images hide caption

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Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Young women eat lunch in the Tuileries Garden in Paris in January 1929.

Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

For more than a century in France, the lunch hour has remained sacred. Workers all over the country spill into sidewalk cafes and office canteens to settle in for a break that can last up to ninety minutes. Strangers share hors d'oeuvres, colleagues catch up and they try to talk about anything except work.

But conviviality isn't on the menu for one American expat, English teacher Kaitlin Plachy, who often spends her lunch break alone with a salad and piles of papers to grade.

Kaitlin wrote to us about her quiet rebellion against lunching with colleagues, wondering: Why would a culture so committed to separating work from rest need such a law at all?

We hit the streets of Paris to pose this question to lunchgoers. And – with the help of French food historian Martin Bruegel – we explore the 100-year history of the law and what 19th century French epidemiologists realized about taking a break from work.

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

Additional Context:

  • To read Martin's essay on the history and importance of France's lunch law, click here.
  • Martin has been writing about food history for decades. Read his paper "Martyrs of the Saucepan" 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 at lunch? Our friends at the NPR podcast Life Kit share advice for having better conversations in this episode.

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