Monday, June 13, 2016


For many years in my workplace, I have always eaten my lunch alone, and so did the others sitting in the same room. It's like everyone putting headphones and listening to their own music, in isolation. When deadlines loomed, "eating" as a verb was substituted by other action verbs. "Grabbed" a bite."Downed" some juice. Gobbled and guzzled. Nibbled and munched. Alone. Staring at the computer screen, using one hand to run data analyses or write emails, or reading news when both hands were needed.

Not in Germany. Every day at noon, the entire department gathers in the hallway. Someone starts knocking on all the doors in the corridor, reminding people it is time for lunch. Then we walk together, a crowd of 10-15 people. Not to another room, no. We step out in the sun, and walk a bus stop to the mensa (cafeteria). There, thousands of students, staff, professors, and sometimes their family gather to eat lunch. There is usually a very good selection of everything- vegetables and meat and fish and salads, at subsidized prices. We choose our food, we pay, and we sit together at a large table. We eat. We talk. We laugh. We share stories. We learn. And we eat. Not gulping mouthfuls between checking Whatsapp messages or browsing Facebook on smart phones. When you have a large group to talk to, you do not need technology to keep you company. I am often notorious for eating the slowest. So while everyone is done and I am still finishing the last few bites, everyone waits for me to finish up. No one leaves without me. 

Then, we go back to the office together, but not right back to work. Not yet. We go back to the conference room. One of us is responsible every week to brew the coffee and boil water for tea. All of us sit and drink tea or coffee. Someone is on weekly duty to provide the cookies and crackers. Even people who do not drink tea or coffee sit for a while with the group. At this time, whoever needs to get back to work is welcome to do so. Some people linger and talk ideas. Others go back.

Here, I look forward to sharing my meal every day. Since we all need to eat, why not do it together? It makes me realize the importance of stepping back, taking a break, and interacting as a group. Food is not meant to be had in isolation, a hurried affair in between finishing deadlines. This 1-1.5 hour long break everyday is not a waste of work time. It is included within the work time, to make sure people talk, communicate, share, wait for one another, and do not forget their social skills. By the way, "essen" is the German word for eating.


1 comment:

rs said...

that is really nice. i hate to have lunch alone at office. i go out with a friend to the pantry. At home, my mom always ensures that we all sit together for dinner. We talk, discuss a lot of stuff during that one meal. And that helps a lot.