One difference between France and Japan is the approach to food and eating. In France, people live to eat, the food is like a religion and is to be savoured and enjoyed, ideally with a company and a good conversation. I do know some French who would go above and beyond when it comes to food.
In Japan, while quality and aesthetic appeal do matter a lot, the approach is somewhat different. It is more ”eat to live” rather than “live to eat”, I would say. Children are taught to respect the food, eat in silence and not to talk during the meal. Being the last one to finish is not good as you are causing trouble to others who have to wait for you, you got it?
Lunch at work could be a perfect example. Even though I may be exaggerating and it always depends, lunch in France will take an hour or even more. If you don’t have an hour, you don’t set a lunch appointment, full stop. Also, French people do not eat solo. To my big surprise, but confirmed by a number of native French, they would rather share lunch break with someone they cannot stand (in other circumstances) than eat alone. Conversation is a very important part, and as a rule, lunch is finished with a coffee.
In Japan, it is quite the opposite, lunch time is strictly measured, and many people would want to save some time for after-lunch nap at their desk, cigarette or whatever else. Coffee would be an addition to cigarette rather than a ritual on its own. This means that you have to be really quick at lunch. It goes without saying that others have to be quick as well, not to make someone wait. As you may have understood, causing any kind of trouble to others is simply not an option. After all, Japan is all about being part of the team or group.
Now imagine a mixed foreign-Japanese team having lunch together. Westerners do not hurry and want to take their time and talk as they eat, Japanese want to finish fast and do whatever they wanted to do. Typical lunch set in Japan would include a main course, a bowl of rice, soup, some pickles and possibly even dessert. This all can be eaten in 5 to 10 minutes, I am not kidding, though you have to be Japanese to do that. As a result, someone has to wait…
The story goes that when first foreigners joined our team some years ago, they were told that “first you eat, and then you can talk”. The trick here is that by the time you finish eating, everyone would be finished with lunch and would leave, so you simply would not have a chance to say a word.
Times change, so do traditions and habits. We do have more foreigners in the office, the lunch is getting longer, though even with conversation it rarely takes more than 30 minutes (provided that you do not go to eat outside). We do joke, and even finish with a coffee (ok, only foreigners and smokers).
The end of the story? All the Japanese ladies queuing in the bathroom to clean their teeth and to be right at their desk exactly the minute lunch break is over. Not sure if men do the same, but this is something you would never see in France or Western world for that matter.
So, shall we have lunch one day?