As if on cue, my Mom’s monthly care package of newspaper clippings arrived yesterday afternoon, together with a birthday present for Saturday.
Among the mass of political topics, I found a NY Times article* on the changing art of the lunch hour that acts as a sequel to yesterday’s blog post – the little blond boy grows up. At lunchtime, instead of staring at his mini-computer screen while popping gummy bears, he now sits in his work cubicle and types away between scoops of take-out Chinese.
Joseph Gibbons, research director of the Future Work Institute – a consulting firm in Brooklyn that focuses on workplace issues says, “I see it all the time. We’re used to eating alone and having everything we need right there and being very self-sufficient. That carries over to the workplace.” The practice even has a its own new term, dining “al desko”. The lunch hour itself has been reduced to 31 minutes that are not even dedicated to lunch, but more often to running errands and making personal phone calls.
With the combination of new work schedules that don’t allow going home for an extended lunch period and low pay, lots of young Italians bring their lunch to work, but with a different touch. When I directed an office of seven 25-30 year old Italians (actually one French and one Dutch), they would close up shop at 1:00 sharp, clean off a communal space, cover it with a tablecloth, share large bottles of water and coke and condiments, microwave their individual leftovers and all dig in at the same time, conversing about anything and everything non-work related. Then they tidied up and went out for an espresso at the bar across the street. Time permitting – they would also make personal phone calls and emails until 2:00 came around, but never while eating. (keep in mind that the 1-2:00 hour is not paid and that an eight hour work day is from 9:00-6:00).
Meals, wherever and whenever they take place and with whomever, are a social gathering. Eating alone is not seen as being a sign of self-sufficiency or even of dedication to the company, it is simply viewed as being sad (and weird). The best way to alienate yourself from your colleagues and take two steps back on the trust scale (even with your boss), is to eat alone in your cubicle while multi-tasking on the computer.
* NY Times, Sunday, February 18, 2007