Food & Drink

Eating At Desk No Longer Illegal In French Offices Due To Covid-19

It might seem innocuous enough, but the French believe that eating at your desk is one of life’s no-nos. Lunch should be savoured with colleagues, where work isn’t generally discussed, or at the very least, only peripherally.

There is actually a law banning employees from eating at their desks; Article R.4428-19 of the 3,324-page French labor code, or Code du Travail, as reported by The New York Times. However, because of Covid-19, the government is eager to stop the spread of the virus through the workplace and has said that it will allow people to eat on their own and they won’t be fined if discovered eating at their desk. It’s one of the government’s measures to keep the economy open and to keep France from a third lockdown (experienced by its British and German neighbors).

The country obviously has a strong culinary reputation for savoring its food (the average person on the street is incredibly knowledgable about regional dishes), but the code isn’t just about enjoying your meal–the law stems back to the notion that bosses cannot work people too hard and must allow them a break over lunch. The rule of not eating at desks is an extension of that idea; that people should be encouraged out of the office for a midday break. The country has a 35-hour working week (although in reality, many employees work more than this) and the country fiercely defends the notion of work-life balance.

It’s just one of the many ways that the pandemic has upended French gastronomy. The country has seen a huge rise in frozen food sales (as elsewhere around the world) and staple pantry items that stay edible for longer. During the October curfew, when restaurants had to close at night (before they were forced to close and still haven’t been allowed to reopen) eateries began finding ways around traditional dinner times.

In Lyon, for instance, restaurants began serving a large traditional mid-morning meal that dates back generations made from different parts of a pig and tripe, called le machon (named after the French verb, mâcher, to chew). Others began serving dinner at 5pm, advertising early bird specials, horrifying many, who claimed that the Americanisation of France was complete. In November, France saw a 300% increase in raclette cheese sales, as people turned to home cooking to find comfort.

These new habits are satirised in a YouTube video circulating France called ‘The Restaurant Museum’ where a curator shows tourists around a French bistro explaining what used to happen when people went to restaurants, “an activity which has now completely disappeared”. The tourists are shown a bowl of peanuts and ask horrified if people used to all put their hands in the same dish. The French tour guide replies that it was another age, “when people weren’t afraid of anything”.

With the rise in homeworking or teletravail in France, and the threat of a third lockdown looming (Macron is due to address the nation next Thursday) it might not be long before a video arrives to satirise working in an office, never mind eating at one’s desk.


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