PARIS — Eating habits are as good a guide to France as any, and they are about to undergo a radical change.
The Labor Ministry says it will soon allow French employees to eat lunch at their desks, in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, a practice previously forbidden under Article R.4428-19 of the 3,324-page French labor code, or Code du Travail.
French eating habits have already been sorely tested by the pandemic. A 6 p.m. curfew prevents the pre-dinner stop at the boulangerie or the butcher, and the closure of all cafes and restaurants has propelled takeout in the form of “le click & collect” — an English expression the French have adopted. It has been a case of one indignity after another.
Until now, any company allowing employees to eat lunch at their desks was subject to a fine if discovered by inspectors. The ban was consistent with the hyper-regulation of workers’ rights enshrined in a labor code, and reflected the fierce French attachment to the country’s “art de vivre.”
“We French and you Americans have totally different ideas about work,” said Agnès Dutin, a retired translator, as she wheeled a bag with her Sunday market produce.
To eat in France, whatever the inroads of fast food, remains a social experience rather than a matter of mere nourishment. It is a pleasurable gathering to which much of life is dedicated.
In the country that gave the world the 35-hour workweek, the American lunch-at-the-desk habit is viewed as an ominous indication of a poor understanding of the proper work-life balance.
“You only have one life,” Ms. Dutin remarked.