The Disgruntled Ruminations of an Office Worker Meant for Better Things
There really aren’t many things the French do better than us. They’re genetically incapable of indicating, and they couldn’t dye hair convincingly if their lives depended on it. However, as we all know, when it comes to food, they’re leaps and bounds ahead of us pale and wobbly Anglo-Saxons. It’s true, their sausages mostly suck, their freezers are increasingly full of crispy pancakes, and their bread goes stale within a minute of leaving the bakers (note, they do still have bakers), but, for the most part, they give food the respect something which keeps us alive and kicking obviously deserves.
This is nowhere more evident than in a small town, on a weekday, a l’heure du midi. In Britain the place would be thronged with lunchtime shoppers, browsing for worthless rubbish whilst gobbling down some noxious mayonnaise sandwich on the hoof. And these are the brave few: most people never even make it outside, instead preferring to chomp at a soggy salad they stuffed into a lunchbox the evening before, whilst staring blankly at their computer screens. In France, by contrast, centre ville is deserted. The only sound comes from the merry bells at the doors of various bistros, offering three-course menus for eight euros, as people take the time to sit down and eat at a table like civilised creatures before returning to the office refreshed and motivated to be obstreperous and generally rude in that charming Gallic fashion.
It’s all very grown-up. But, unless you fancy retraining as beret maker and relocating, such things are beyond your feeble reach. Sure, you start a job all fired up about taking your full hour, preparing elaborate couscous salads* from scratch and escaping into your book for forty-five minutes, but gradually the job encroaches. You put off taking lunch until 3.30, just to get a few things out of the way (mainly because you’ve been on hotmail all morning) and then it just doesn’t seem worth it really. When you announce you’re going for lunch, people look up reproachfully. Taking an hour off in the middle of the day is pigeonholed in the same category of outrageous decadence as making wine from the blood of your firstborn, just to see what it tastes like.
And then, of course, there’s the inevitable awkwardness factor (see all previous columns). Wherever you work, however old and mellow you become, there will always be people you loathe with an enjoyable passion. Sadly, it is usually necessary to conceal this violent dislike, and they will sometimes, being stupid, mistake your slightly hysterical niceness for real warmth of feeling, and ask you if you ‘Fancy popping out to go and get some lunch?’ Believe me, no office politics is worth the magnification of irritation that comes from having to watch someone you despise spitting bits of pasta salad through their teeth as they divulge intimate details about their love life. From that day on, despite your penchant for a late lunch, you will have to scurry off at 11.45 muttering excuses about the bank, and, to be honest, you might as well start looking around for another job. When you can’t even eat lunch without fear, it’s the beginning of
*Note, there will always be one person in the office who takes one look at your culinary masterpiece and sneers ‘urhhh, is that smell your lunch?’ They’re usually the ones with the stinking burgers. Also, they often claim to be able to detect garlic on your breath for several weeks after anything particularly exotic (like, say, rice) has graced your Tupperware.