Working and/or Eating?

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For the second year, I have been sent by the school authorities to another school to give oral exams. This entails getting up early, driving 90 minutes to get there and listening to seven candidates in a row before the lunch break and then listening to another batch of seven before driving back home.

This morning, while the four examiners were sipping the cup of coffee we had been offered on arrival, the headmaster came to greet us and announced that a secretary would come to sell us lunch tickets. I politely declined, adding that I had brought my own food and would join the others in the staff dining-room.

At that point the head replied that people were not allowed to bring into the school food that had not been prepared on their premises. It echoed something I had heard in my own school but had not investigated since I can always eat at home this year. It was a bit too early for me to think of something clever and polite to answer so I kept silent.

However when the time came to have lunch I chose to ignore the remark and brought my mixed rice and chickpeas salad into the dining-room. By then I had pondered the question and had an answer ready in case someone asked me to eat outside. It was a little cold and windy so there was no way I was moving out.

I am not undisciplined on principle but some situations can really irritate me. I know that the French secular system has no place for religious “idiosyncrasies” but the incident made me realize that it not possible to be a vegetarian either, not to mention that I wonder what they expect people who have food allergies or intolerance to do. It was in fact the case for another of the examiners who also brings her own food.

My morning stupor prevented me from asking the reason behind this peculiar rule although I suspect it has to do with the zero-risk syndrome. It seems unlikely that a rotten egg eaten by myself in the staff dining-room might infect the students but I cannot imagine why schools would take such drastic measures.

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16 thoughts on “Working and/or Eating?

  1. I know at movies and restaurants you’re generally not allowed to bring your own food because because they want to sell you food. But schools are not for-profit institutions so that’s confusing. That lunch sounds good. Maybe I’ll make it tomorrow. What spices did you put on it?

  2. My sympathies. I’m sure that after a long morning you just want to eat your lunch without being harassed over stupidities.

    It does sound like a bureaucratic control thing. I had heard that French school lunches are designed to reinforce certain cultural norms (at least this is what American moms with kids in French schools report back). If, as you say, there is little tolerance for religious (and cultural?) differences, could it be that the rule is to make sure that the same “culturally correct” lunch is eaten by all? I have never thought of lunch as being potentially subversive, but then again I am not a French school bureaucrat.

    But, what were you going to answer back if someone gave you a hard time.

    Oh, and that rice and chickpea salad does sound good . . . .

    • I think that one of the things French school lunches are designed to reinforce, apart from a sort of cultural norm, is healthy eating. Thus the meals are carefully planned and always include vegetables and fruit.
      As for my answer I started to write about it but thought it had the length of a post so I will write about it later.

  3. PA: It seems to me that school lunches everywhere reinforce cultural norms.
    I-D: Good for you for not being intimidated. It doesn’t look like they wanted to enforce it anyway.
    Ironically, kosher establishments are strict about not letting outside food in.

    • You are probably right; they did not really want to enforce this silly rule but, trust me, I don’t need a lot of imagination to fear that petty officials will try to do it in some schools.

  4. My brother is in France this year at grad school, and he noted that it has been impossible to be a vegetarian (for a few years he only would eat meat that he had seen raised and killed–this worked while he was in Madagascar; in the US he ate fish but not meat) and have any kind of social life. He cooked vegetarian dinners at home, but lunches in the university cafeteria (which were highly subsidized) were emphatically not. No alternatives. Any meal he was invited to also contained meat. Vegetables were meant for accompaniments.

    This seems so, I don’t know, 50 years ago. I understand that the French have deep cultural ties to eating and don’t seem to suffer as much from food-related ailments, but doesn’t it get expensive? And boring?

    • I know eating a vegetarian meal in any kind of public cafeteria in France is virtually impossible. Things are changing slowly in restaurants but too slowly.
      I am not sure about boring as there are numerous ways to cook meat. I agree with you about expensive though.

      • I intended the boringness to refer to always relegating vegetables to the side. 🙂 There’s so much more to them…

  5. The dressing for your salad sounds divine. I’m going to try it on my salad today!

    Yes, it does seem very bureaucratic, which is typically frustrating. I’m glad you were able to eat your lunch in peace, *and* that you have a compatriot who also needs to bring her own food. There is power in numbers (which, hopefully, it will not come to).

    I hope the oral exams (and thus the commute) are almost over. Good luck!

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