You Can Have Your Lunch and Eat It Too

I've never worked at a small business before, nor do I know a great deal about economics. It's always been my assumption, however, that a small store should be open most of the day, to do as much business as possible. This includes typical lunch hours, so that anyone on their lunch break can have the time to run errands. But according to the French, this is an absurd delusion our nation suffers, on the same level as believing the Earth is flat or that Sarah Palin does great in interviews. Attempt the same on a lunch break in France and the task is impossible, unless your chores solely consist of staring at locked doors and metal screens.

There is a good reason, or at least a good French reason, that nearly every shop in the country is closed between midday and 2 p.m. That is time for the people of the Hexagon to observe one of their most sacred traditions: lunch. For the French, lunch is a time to sit and relax, to savor every bite, wait patiently for every course, and of course enjoy their coffee at the end. All the shops are closed because of course their owners need to enjoy their lunches too. Besides, as it was explained to me, where would their customers be? Everyone's eating lunch. That was perhaps the biggest cultural gap that I faced, greater than the language barrier or the fact that it's considered acceptable for adult men to wear denim capris.

During my first time eating lunch in Perpignan the waiter was affronted by our lack of desire to have an appetizer or dessert. Dessert with lunch? How do the French get away with accusing Americans of having poor eating habits? Lunch for me has always been less of an experience and more of a routine. I'll make a sandwich or clear out leftovers, and then shove whatever's on my plate into my mouth while I'm busy watching the Daily Show. Sure I can appreciate a two-hour lunch break, who wouldn't? But I need those two hours to do stuff. I don't think I've ever spent two hours eating lunch. I'm not even sure how that is possible.

But on Tuesday I had a realization that it is in fact possible and that I've done it before. I remembered my last trip to Kauai, and how I ate lunch at the house my family rented. After three hours of surfing I would carefully assemble sandwiches of ono salad, coleslaw, Dijon mustard, two types of cheese, you get the idea. From the patio I'd gaze at the lush mountains in the distance, the crisp blue waters of Hanalei Bay and be completely at peace in the center of paradise. I drew out every single bite, as I didn't want to get up from the table and leave paradise. I think that's the point of lunch in France, to savor the moment and enjoy it as much as possible. So from now on I'll eat lunch the French way, and try to find my way back to paradise.

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About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.