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Long lunch and leisurely dinner: Why the French spend twice as long eating as Americans

The Local France
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Long lunch and leisurely dinner: Why the French spend twice as long eating as Americans
French schoolchildren eat lunch in the canteen of a municipal school in Bordeaux. (Photo by GEORGES GOBET / AFP)

An OECD comparison of how people in different countries spend their time shows the French spending the most time per day in eating and drinking - twice as long as Americans.

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According to the OECD, the French penchant for long meals is not just a mere stereotype, but an established fact. 

France ranked in first place out of all OECD countries - ahead of Italy, Greece and Spain - for the amount of time spent eating and drinking, with the average French person racking up two hours and 13 minutes per day (including weekdays) of time at the table. 

READ MORE: Work, sleep and lunch: What do the French do all day?

In comparison, Americans came in last place, spending just one hour and two minutes each day eating and drinking. 

 

The data comes from a regular survey conducted in France that looks at how long people spend per day doing things like eating, sleeping, working or engaged in chores. The OECD has used this data with comparable surveys from other countries to create the ranking. 

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And France coming top of the class might not come as a big surprise to people who have spent time here, knowing the pride in French gastronomy, as well as for the effort that is put into each meal. 

Many French shops and workplaces close during lunchtime, typically between 12pm and 2pm, while French schoolchildren also have a two-hour break. When it comes to eating out, service in restaurants is deliberately slow, to allow people time to savour the experience of sharing a meal with friends or family.

Alexandre, a 29-year-old Frenchman who works full-time, estimated his amount of time spent eating and drinking was below the French average.

"I'd say I take 10 minutes in the morning for breakfast. Then, at noon I take a full hour break, but counting time spent chewing I am probably closer to 30 minutes. In the evening, I would guess between 30 to 45 minutes", he said, coming out to an average of one hour and 10 minutes.

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But his friends Yassine and Antoine guessed closer to the two hour mark. Antoine said: "breakfast is five minutes at my desk in the morning. Lunch takes one hour, and dinner is 45 minutes", coming out to one hour and 50 minutes spent eating and drinking per day.

As for Yassine, breakfast is skipped entirely and lunch depends on whether he eats alone or with his colleagues. "I take 40 minutes for lunch if I eat by myself, but an hour if I eat with others. Dinner takes about the same amount of time."

Others, like Amandine, in her early 20s, specified that it depends whether you are eating with members of the older generation. 

"I would say 1 hour 30 minutes in general for me, but if it's family meals at my grandparents' lunch would last from 12 noon (apéritif) to 4pm (coffee) and then you're back at it at 5pm for the goûter [snack]", she explained.

READ MORE: Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

Similarly, young-working professional Guillaume said that the older generation take longer over their meals. "At my mom's house, both lunch and dinner will take closer to 45 minutes, and if there is the cheese course at the end then you can add another 10 minutes on top". 

How do foreigners feel about long meals?

As for foreigners in France, many told The Local that the time and effort put into a meal was one of the biggest ways their eating and drinking habits changed after moving.

READ MORE: Revealed: How your food and drink habits change when you move to France

One reader, Jen Williams in Paris, noted in The Local's survey about food habits in France that "we sit at meals much longer than we would in the US. I'm much less picky now".

American Jim Lockard said that in France "Meals are to be savoured, and you talk about life, not about what you are eating and drinking".

Another American, Sarah Van Sicklen who has been in France for under four years, said "I love the slow rate at which a meal at a restaurant is served and eaten. Dinners out are about relaxation and not about wilding down food. The waiters don't rush you out."

As for Richard Stenton, also American, who lives in the Gard, he felt similarly, saying that there is no rush to finish. "When you go to a restaurant you have the table in most places for the whole evening or afternoon. You have to ask for the bill."

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