There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch Break

Originally Published in Gstaad Life Magazine - June, 2015


A few years ago, a local friend and builder shared with me that he had just witnessed a client accuse a worker of being a slacker for attempting to leave a meeting at lunchtime.

“It was twelve o’clock,” my friend said. “The contractor said he had to go, that his wife had cooked a meal and his children were waiting. I just don’t get it. These city people come up here for the idyllic Swiss mountain life. You know, all that ‘come up, slow down’ stuff… and then they try to impose their city ways on us. Instead of respecting our traditions, they expect us to change. Yet, they are the ones who need to integrate.”

I have to admit, that I—too—was shocked the first time I witnessed the Swiss lunch exodus. It was approximately 12 years ago and I had just arrived from Newport, Rhode Island. It was my first day at work in an office in Gstaad. When a nearby church bell rang, I ignored the noise and continued writing. All of a sudden, it was deathly quiet. I looked around and noticed that all of my coworkers were gone. Panic. Had I missed an emergency alarm?

Gobbling down a sandwich at my desk while working had been the norm back in the US. According to a recent article in the Independent, 81 percent of North American employees don’t take a proper lunch break by leaving their desks. The article explains that this is a bad thing because it results in productivity dropping off at around 3pm and increased risk of heart disease.

Now, I’ve come to like the 1 1/2 –hour lunch break, despite the constant cooking. It gives me a chance to connect with my kids and friends, and it forces me to take care of my health.

When I asked my expat girlfriends—who are married to local men—what they think of the Swiss lunch, they said: “I’m used to it now.” “I just wish I didn’t have to cook every single day.” Some said they found it difficult—if not impossible—to have a career because of it, although I would argue that irregular public school hours are largely to blame. One friend said she loves lunch, because that’s when she can shop in an empty COOP (her husband does the cooking).

What many foreigners don’t realize is that lunch breaks in Switzerland are not only obligatory but unpaid, unlike places such as the USA, where the 30-minute lunch break is part of the nine to five workday.

There are many advantages to taking a lunch break and not eating at your desk. Here are a few:

1. Changing your environment boosts creativity.

2. Fresh air and physical activity improve mood and health.

3. The average office keyboard has more bacteria than a toilet seat.

4. Distracted eating leads to eating more.

5. Skipping meals leads to overeating.

6. Eating out or at home improves relationships with family, friends and colleagues. Lunch dates are great for singles.

7. Improves parenting opportunities: increased communication and wellbeing, model manners to children and expands their palates by introducing new foods. Eating often together has been proven to prevent addiction. If cooking at home, you know what you’re eating and you save money.

That women are expected to do most if not all of the cooking is the only disadvantage I could come up with. It’s just out of step with emancipated society. Of course, Saanenland has limited career opportunities and each family has its own structure; I do know cool dads who cook, and this equal sharing of household chores is becoming increasingly common.

So, dear reader, please understand that Swiss workers are: not slackers; are not paid to eat lunch; and will return to work more energized and productive than before. E Guete!