Why do the French take such long lunch breaks?

French people take far longer lunch breaks than many other nationalities, a survey found. But why?

Why do the French take such long lunch breaks?
Photo: kattebelletje/Flickr
Lunch time breaks in France are a sacred thing.
Unlike in many other countries, you're unlikely to spot workers here hunched over their computer during their lunch breaks typing with one hand and eating with the other.
In fact, a survey this week found that 43 percent of French people spend over 45 minutes eating lunch each day. This was by far the biggest percentage for the extended break of all 14 countries surveyed.
The survey, based on the responses of 2,500 employees of French corporate services company Edenred, found that the Brits and Americans were far less likely to take a 45-minute break at just 10 and 3 percent respectively. 
In France, meanwhile, 34 percent said they spend between 30 and 45 minutes, 21 percent between 15 and 30 minutes, and just 2 percent spend less than 15 minutes on the midday meal.
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In Britain, the most popular lunch break length was between 15 and 30 minutes, which 43 percent admitted to. Another 28 percent of Brits take fewer than 15 minutes, meanwhile, which seems barely even enough time to leave the building, let alone sit down and enjoy the food. 
In the US, 51 percent of respondents said they spend 15 to 30 minutes, while 33 percent opted for 30 to 45 minutes. Some 13 percent went for less than 15 minutes.
The survey also found that over half of the Czechs took less than half an hour, and that no one in Greece spent more than 45 minutes at lunch. 
And while Italy was the closest match to France of the countries that were quizzed, only 7 percent of Italians actually spent over 45 minutes eating. 
It begs the question – why exactly are the French so keen on their long lunch breaks?

Thibaut de Saint Pol, sociologist at the Ecole normale supéreure de Cachan, says that lunch time is just traditionally more important in France than in other countries.

“Meals are the most enjoyable moments of the day. We only miss them on rare occasions,” he told The Local.

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He described mealtimes as “an important social time” and added that “family identity, work teams or friends are built around these moments”.

“And sharing food is a way of establishing a connection with other people,” he added.

Food specialist Jean-Pierre Corbeau, meanwhile, went as far as calling lunch “a very important ritual in France” in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper.

Other reasons could be that the French are masters of restraint – something they learn from a young age – so the fact that they don't snack all day must leave them aching for a good lunch. 

Let's not forget, as well, that a lunch in France will often involve an extra course, some wine and a post-lunch coffee, which you would be at a push to squeeze into 15 minutes.

De Saint Pol said that the French don't consider lunch as “a moment to refuel”, as perhaps those in the US and the UK might. 

“Eating is not only to give us energy, but even more than this, a moment where our identity is formed by what we eat, how we eat and who we eat with,” he said. 

So while the Anglophones may be putting in more time in the office, perhaps we could learn from the French. Not only could we savour our lunch for a change, but we might just be missing out on a crucial bonding moment with colleagues or family.

By Hattie Ditton

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Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!