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Table manners: You can't eat at your desk in France. Here's why

In France, the law separating work from rest (or rather, lunch) dates back to at least 100 years.

June 16, 2022 / 08:34 PM IST
Post industrialisation in France, as cities expanded, more workers had to travel to factories and the midday meal, traditionally made to be eaten at home, began to be had at the workplace. (Representative image)

Post industrialisation in France, as cities expanded, more workers had to travel to factories and the midday meal, traditionally made to be eaten at home, began to be had at the workplace. (Representative image)

Imagine a labour code that prohibits employees from eating at the workplace. Also, imagine a culture that shuns eating alone and encourages a change of scenery during lunch.

This isn't a fantasy world we're talking about because that's how France works.

In this European country, it is banned to eat even a salad when at work. And the reason is steeped in France's history and industrialisation.

According to the podcast Rough Translation, the law separating work from rest (or rather, lunch) dates back to at least 100 years.

The French lunch break was born during a public health crisis -- the podcast featuring French food historian Martin Bruegel stated -- and was nearly killed in another.

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"The workplace in the 1890s was full of health hazards," Bruegel said.

As cities expanded, more workers had to travel to factories and the midday meal, traditionally made to be eaten at home, began to be had at the workplace. "Most of the actual eating was done on the factory floor," Bruegel noted.

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Fresh out of the industrial revolution, workers would have their food in enclosed spaces and in close quarters with questionable hygiene. Workers would pick at their food with their fingers in seamstress sweatshops, matchbook factories and warehouses packed with heavy machinery.

From airborne diseases to poisonous fumes, these sites were far from sanitary. "Even in department stores, there were more microbes and germs per cubic feet than outside," Bruegel pointed out.

So, as the diseases spread, French doctors worked on figuring out a a way to clean the air in dirty workspaces. Their solution -- get the people out and then open the windows to clear out the air-borne germs.

"The saying was that we have to flush the work sites as we flush toilets," Bruegel said. "What is the best time to do that? It's usually when people eat!"

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The government in France agreed with the doctors' suggestion and in 1894, introduced a decree that banned lunch at the workplace.

The law was followed till February 2021 when, due to Covid, the lunch-break law was suspended for safety reasons, but the law was soon put back into effect this year.
Moneycontrol News
first published: Jun 16, 2022 08:27 pm
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