Culture shocks part I: Lunch

One of the most important cultural differences I have encountered so far in Germany is lunch. HOT lunch to be more precise. Hot lunch is something I only know from my grandmother’s place, and something my stomach considered quite upsetting, having gotten up only a little before! Now lunch might not be a big cultural clash at first sight, but as I previously argued elsewhere: the charm is in the detail, and this is a pretty important detail.

In the Netherlands lunch is pretty much standardized: sandwiches. At my previous job we didn’t even take lunch breaks most of the days, we just ate our sandwiches at our desk and continued business as usual. I agree that lunch break does have its charms though, spending some time chatting with your colleagues. Even though not all topics discussed at my current lunch table are suitable for publication here, so to say.

Now. All of my colleagues eat hot lunches. Every single one of them. Well, there is one German exception, but everyone else: a hot lunch. I couldn’t believe my own eyes at first. On my first day at work some colleagues took me out to lunch. Before going out, they asked me whether I had any preferences when it came to lunch. Naively I assumed that lunch in Germany would be quite the same as lunch in the Netherlands: you might get a nice bröchtchen, or, if you’re really lucky: a toast with ham and cheese. If only I’d known they had a burger place in mind. Yes, seriously… burgers at noon!! Not the best lunch I’ve ever had, so to say 😀

That Thursday came the next challenge: office lunch. That might be a startup phenomena, as I’ve seen several startups promoting themselves by offering prospective employees a free lunch. So does my boss, every Thursday. I don’t even remember what we had that first week: determined as I was to keep my Dutch lunch habits I kept to my sandwiches. My colleagues laughed their asses off. Me eating sandwiches for lunch became an old joke a long time ago though, and no one is surprised anymore these days. I even got the company of a new German colleague in the meantime, who also has sandwiches for lunch. Or something even less nutritious. On one point I gave in though: on Thursday I’m having office lunch with the rest. So far I’ve had Mexican, pasta, falafel.. and I’ve even come to appreciate the pasta with curry chicken, even though I’m not buying it yet myself for lunch. That’s only the next step I guess.

voedsel

Brazilian feijoada, by my Brazilian colleagues. Photo by my French colleague L.

The original idea behind office lunch is that colleagues cook special dishes from their home countries. I’ve had Ukranian (insert difficult name), Swedish meatballs, and this week delicious Brazilian feijoada. So far I’ve been evading the questions of when and what I’m going to cook, and I have only one more Thursday to escape, as next week I’ll be taking the day off for a trip to Berlin. Everyone who knows me only a tiny bit knows that I’m a really bad cook and that I don’t really like cooking. My food usually.. well.. fails. There are only a few dishes I can cook really well, and I usually rotate between these when I’m having guests. None of these however qualify as ‘Dutch’ and none of them taste good when you warm them again – although I guess that goes for most food. My colleagues already suggested oliebollen (you need a deep fryer for that, plus I’ve never made them), Erwtensoep (same story, never made it) and well.. several other things I’ve never tried before. And cooking for 15 colleagues might not be the best time to start experimenting in the kitchen: after all they count on you to fill their hungry bellies. I suggested making pasta carbonara instead, as that is a fairly easy dish – in my eyes. It was disallowed by my Italian colleague immediately, claiming that making a good carbonara is really difficult. So the question still remains: to cook or not to cook? And if to cook, what to cook?

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7 thoughts on “Culture shocks part I: Lunch

  1. Haha, that is definitely different from most people in the Netherlands, though I’d certainly like it. I love eating a warm meal during lunch, it keeps me going so much better for the rest of the day!
    As for things you could cook, what about some “stamppot”? That is very easy, you could hardly mess that up. 😉

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  4. Haha I had an exactly opposite experience moving from Poland to the UK! For me it was weird just to eat something light or a sandwich for lunch and then eat such a heavy food (a proper warm dish) in the evening for dinner. Took me a while to start exploring dinner places in London and accept these local food habits! I still do prefer to eat a warm lunch around 2-3 pm though – hard to get rid of the habits you’ve nourished since childhood 😀
    These small things make a huge difference to our experience abroad however and build up to become real challenges of adjusting to the life abroad. It helps to take them down one by one!

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