working lunchSandwich at your desk? One-hour three-course meal at the restaurant?

Quick bite at the cafeteria with some colleagues?

Let's not even get into the nutritional aspects of protein, carbs, dairy or fats, although I'd be happy to swap healthy vegan recipes with you any time.

I'm talking about lunch differences across cultures.

Sandwich at your desk

This seems to be the staple in the good US-American diet. It's quick, you can bring it from home, and you can check your email and answer the phone while you're at it. Most companies have kitchen areas with microwaves for single-serve ready meals, too.

From the point of view of someone who values time, this approach will look like superb multi-tasking and efficiency. On the downside, you probably won't feel rested.

One-hour three-course meal at the restaurant

Crema Catalana - pic credit recetascocinas.com

This was the go-to when I worked in Spain. Starting at about 1 pm, we'd take our company-sponsored vouchers to the surrounding "bares" and delight our senses with salads or ham and melon for starters, seafood or meat entrees, and fresh fruit or creme catalana for dessert. A "tallat" (strong coffee with hot milk) or peppermint tea to settle the stomach, and back to the office refreshed and caught up on the latest gossip.

From the point of view of someone who values relationships and team work, this approach will look like ideal informal settings to discuss office business off-site on a regular basis. On the downside, one person had to stay behind to man the phones.

Quick bite at the cafeteria with some colleagues?

This would be the marriage of the two above-mentioned. You're not staying out long, while still getting a change of scenery and a chance to chat with people. Downside, not every company offers in-house eating.

Now imagine you're coming from a culture that values time and (supposed) multi-tasking efficiency, and all your new colleagues go out for an hour. What are your first thoughts? What judgments are you making about their behavior? How do you view their work output?

Or imagine you're coming from a culture that values relationship-building and team work, and nobody is going for lunch with you, because they prefer eating at their desks. What are your first thoughts? What judgments are you making about their behavior? How do you view their work output?

Living and working in new countries isn't just about the new foods, it's also how (and when!) they are consumed. The southern Europeans have a different "horario" (schedule) - everything starts bit later. It's not uncommon to meet for dinner at 10 pm; especially on the weekends. Does this mean they don't get anything done? Far from it - the conversations during those lunch hours saves emails and phone calls later on in the day.

Likewise, eating at work and leaving early allows other colleagues to spend time with their families and children. Do they still go back to their laptops afterward? Many do, but that's another blog post.

PS - on June 28th the Harvard Business Review shared this daily stat information:

Do You Work While You Eat?

People who were making and tasting lemonade while memorizing a seven-digit number ended up with a 50% higher sugar concentration in the drink than people who were memorizing just one number, say Reine C. van der Wal of Radboud University Nijmegen and Lotte F. van Dillen of Leiden University, both in the Netherlands. This and other experiments suggest that dealing with a cognitive load dulls the experience of taste (not just sweet but also salty and sour), leading people to drink or eat more in order to obtain a pleasurable experience. Abstaining from cognitive activities during meals may enhance taste perception and limit overconsumption, the researchers say.

In other words, not talking shop and eating at the same time is better for your waist-line! Guten Appetit! :-)

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