France is a somewhat secular country, but there is one 'religion' that all French people share—food and eating.
With its rituals and etiquette, eating is a pillar of French culture and social interaction. It not only has an impact on how families interact and bodies are fed but it’s a central part of their professional lives, from closing deals to building strong team relationships.
So besides helping us eat better food, what can French dining culture teach us about the importance of taking the time to focus on interacting with each other at the workplace? Read on to find out.
Taking The Time To Take The Time
"When the American sociologist David Lerner visited France in 1956 he was stunned by the inflexibility of the French regarding food," wrote fellow sociologist Claude Fischler, head of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research. "He couldn't understand why they all ate at a fixed time, like at the zoo."
French people spent an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes per day eating in 2010, 13 minutes more time than in 1986, all while following the strict rule of eating breakfast lunch, and dinner with no snacking in between.
This goes, according to many experts, a long way to explaining why, despite their love of bread, cheese and wine levels of obesity in France are far lower than those in the US, where snacking and skipping meals is common place.
Taking A Real Break
When everybody takes a break at the same time, they will most likely be focusing on actually taking a break and won't try to work and eat, or drive and eat, or drive and work and eat, or… you get the idea.
Promoting a culture of taking a real, lengthy break can help your team disconnect from work and spend valuable time together. A lot of productivity advice, such as the Pomodoro Technique, recommends that you break your day into different blocks and relax in between those blocks.
Lunch is a very healthy, and easy, way to stop for at least 45 minutes to take a step back from work, helping to clear your mind and look at tasks from a different angle. Ideally the French would tell you take longer – even school lunches in France are 90 minutes – but in an American office environment that may not always be possible.
Take Care Of Your Body, Eat Slowly
A typical lunch break at work in France lasts at least 1 hour and is never taken at your desk. They value eating slowly and being seated at a table to do so.
The benefits of slow eating include better digestion, better hydration, easier weight loss or maintenance and, of course, taking the time to really enjoy the taste of your food.
This is not necessarily about staying fit, it is more about the short term benefits: If you take the time to really nurture your body, you will improve your capacity to focus, think, and, most likely, enjoy the rest of your day. Oh, and your desk will be a lot cleaner too.
People Are As Fundamental As Food
But why do the French spend so much time at the table, at least when compared to those of us in the US?
Beyond biology and the fact that everyone loves some dessert, eating is actually just an excuse to spend valuable time with people. In the French culture, it’s not only a functional activity, it is first and foremost the place and time when relationships are developed.
From bonding with their colleagues to closing business deals with clients, the table is where people interact in France. Spending time together fosters conversation, allows debates and brainstorming to flourish naturally, and encourages ideas to flow creatively.
Culturally, the French assign more value to their relationships with others than to time and money. They believe that getting to know someone outside the boardroom will help build a trusting relationship that will be valuable over time. And what better way to get to know someone than sharing a great meal with them?