Pop Quiz: Do you lunch?
As I mentioned last week, most of us in the education biz* often find ourselves engaged in activities that aren’t really part of our jobs, but are nonetheless important and/or gratifying. Along these lines, I’d like to turn for a moment to a vitally important but rather less-frequently discussed part of academic life: collegiality.
Collegiality isn’t usually at the forefront of our minds, except perhaps for those of us writing recommendation letters (of course candidate X is friendly and cooperative and totally not an antisocial axe-murderer!), but it’s something that is perhaps worth thinking about more often. Not only are friendly and collegial environments more pleasant to work in, but they also tend to foster professional collaboration and the cross-fertilization of ideas.
Sometimes, we end up getting our best ideas in the presence of food and drink.** In fact my advisors often relate an anecdote about how they got the seminal idea for a whole string of papers and articles over dinner at an Indian restaurant with another scholar. And while many of us have come to expect this kind of conviviality and intellectual exchange at conferences, all too often we end up so wrapped up in our own projects that we forget that the very same thing is possible all the time. We spend every day working in a community of professional intellectuals, after all, and it seems like a real waste not to take advantage of it.
One of the best opportunities to do this, it turns out, is lunch. We all need to eat, right?
Merely eating lunch, of course, is not the same as having lunch. A real lunch culture means making a concerted effort to get together with a variety of colleagues for a real meal and conversation, not spending ten minutes together eating bowl noodle in the break room. And really, almost no one is actually too busy to spare the extra time out of their schedule at least a couple times a week.
Schedule permitting. And boy is that a big qualifier.
If I had to pick the number one pernicious trend in contemporary professional culture, it would be the decline of the mid-day break as an integral part of the work/school schedule. It’s absolutely criminal. When I was in high school we got 35 minutes, 29 if you don’t count the passing period after the bell. It was barely enough time for the kids using the cafeteria to buy their lunches, let alone eat them. (My favourite teacher at the time actually worked around this by always having her “conference period” right before lunch. The extra time actually allowed her to go home every day and eat real food.)
I’m not advocating three-martini lunches here (or at least not every day), but there is real value in the mid-day break and the opportunity it provides for decompression and promoting social cohesion among colleagues. I for one would be happy to see the workday extended to allow for this. In Italy, for example, normal work hours tend to be from 7:30-12:30 and then 4:00-7:00. Granted, it can be annoying for everything to be closed for three hours in the middle of the day (and it would make things hard on people with a long commute), but once you get used to it it’s hard to go back.
So, do you lunch? Can you? Would you make the trade to get a longer mid-day break if it meant a longer workday?
*Yes, I used this word.
**Herodotus noted the ancient Persians would deliberate over important issues once while drunk and then again in the morning while sober. Same idea, really.
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).
Featured image: Miniature from Le Livre des conquêtes et faits d’Alexandre, Paris, musée du Petit-Palais, 86r.