Credit: NYPL, Jonathan Blanc
“How much time do you have?” asked my friend Morgan.
I looked at the time. 12pm. I came in early that day, didn’t have another meeting until 2. “I think I can swing a full hour”
This made Morgan laugh. He was hours away from boarding a flight back to his home in Switzerland, where an hour minimum is a standard lunch break. And here I was, hemming and hawing over whether or not I could take a measly hour to catch up with a dear friend who I only get to see once or twice a year.
It’s no secret that Americans are some of the most stressed out human beings on the face of the planet, even if it is our own doing. We work long hours, bring our work home with us, and apparently don’t use half of our paid vacation time! AND we don’t take proper lunch breaks. Catch me on any normal day at the office, and there is a 99% chance that I’m eating my lunch in front of my computer — possibly while I’m still emailing.
Morgan shakes his head when I explain my routine. “You’re not meant to sit in front of the computer all day,” he says to me. “You need to take a break.”
This solution seems so simple, but in the back of my mind I can’t help but think, “it’s just not the way we do things here.” All the talk about lunch (and, I suppose, the unusual circumstance of sitting in a restaurant in the middle of the workday) takes me back to a fabulous exhibit that I visited a few weeks ago at the New York Public Library, Lunch Hour NYC.If you are in the city, I highly recommend that you visit this free exhibit if only for an excuse to wander inside the beautiful and historic library on 42nd Street (if you’re not in the area, you can check out the online exhibit!). Although the display is rife with nostalgic memorabilia, from menus to 1950s tin lunch boxes, there are some overarching themes that are so quintessentially American and which explain my lunchtime conundrum to a tee — everything was fast, convenient, and productive! The power lunch. Wonder bread. Food carts. All of the foundational elements that led us to the lunch break-averse culture that we are today.
I’m not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with this. Sometimes I’d rather power through lunch to make my day go by faster and have one more thing crossed off of my to-do list before I head home. But I must confess that after lunch, a coffee, and a good conversation with an old friend (clocking in at an unthinkable hour and twenty-five minutes, no less!), I did feel more relaxed for the rest of the day.