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Drop That Fork! Why Eating at Your Desk Is Banned in France

Ivan Clarke

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People sit at La Gargouille’s cafe terrace on Saint-Jean Square in Lyon, France, in 2016.

Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images

Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images

This story is adapted from the latest episode of Rough Translation. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or NPR One.

Eating a salad at your desk may not be the most memorable kind of lunch, but at least you can get some work done. In France, that’s forbidden.

The French labor code prohibits workers from eating lunch in the workplace. The solo work lunch is also shunned in a culture that prizes a change of pace — and scenery — during the midday meal.

But the French lunch break wasn’t always about bistros, leisurely meals and 90 minutes of amiable conversation. Many workers originally rejected the idea of leaving the workplace at all.

So what did it take for the French to finally take a break?

It turns out that the French lunch break was born during a public health crisis and was nearly killed in another.

Germ theory

That’s the argument food-culture historian Martin Bruegel makes.

“The workplace in the 1890s was full of health hazards,” he says.

As cities grew and more workers had to travel to factories on the other side of town, their eating habits changed. The midday meal, traditionally made to be eaten at home, entered a new carryout phase. Lunch pails became increasingly common at the workplace. French fries bought at local markets were an occasional treat. Most of the actual eating was done on the factory floor.

Workers stand at the exit of the Rattier factory in Bezons, France, circa 1905. Lunch pails became increasingly common at the workplace during that era in France.

ND/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

ND/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

Picture workers picking at their food with their fingers in matchbook factories, seamstress sweatshops and warehouses full of heavy machinery. From airborne tuberculosis to phosphorus fumes, these work sites were far from sanitary. “Even in department stores, there were more microbes and germs per cubic feet than outside.”

In his recent essay, “Covid-19, Workday Lunch and the French Labor Code,” Bruegel looked into the connection between the Industrial Revolution and the Great French Lunch Break.

As diseases spread, doctors discussed how to clean the air in dirty workspaces.

First, you had to get the people out. “The saying was that we have to flush the work sites as we flush toilets,” Bruegel says. “What is the best time to do that? It’s usually when people eat!”

The government’s answer: ban lunch in the workplace. Get the people outside and then open the windows to clear out the germs. That was the idea behind the 1894 decree that banned lunch at the workplace.

People gather outside Brasserie L?geron-Vetzel in Paris circa 1900.

ND/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

ND/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

There was another law, though: the law of unforeseen consequences. Bruegel points out that people would spill into crowded streets and littered parks.

“There was harassment of women in the streets. The first women’s strike was actually carried out by the seamstresses demanding the right to eat in their workplace,” Bruegel says. Eating outside was unseemly, they said. One female labor inspector noted in her report of 1901 that women saw the enforcement of the law as “tyrannical.”

Legislators insisted that the law remain. Worker safety was at stake. And gradually, over decades, what a public health decree demanded — lunch outside the workplace — became a treasured part of French culture. These days, it’s a standard sight to see workplaces shut their doors and bistros and restaurants swell with lunchtime patrons. The separation between work and lunch is almost sacrosanct.

Young women eat lunch in the Tuileries Garden in Paris in January 1929.

Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Consider a recent protest at Bruegel’s institute, France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, over the proposed introduction of American-style brown-bag seminars. “Lunchtime seminars were considered as socially regressive, intellectually insufficient and so on,” he says, “because you needed a break in your work time!”

The remains of the break

Ninety minutes, free-flowing conversation, perhaps a glass of wine (or two) — by the time the COVID-19 pandemic reached France, the familiar rhythms of the French lunch break had long been established.

And then the government ordered workers back to their desks.

In February 2021, the lunch-break law was put on pause for safety reasons. A public debate ensued about whether it was time to repeal the law for good.

Bruegel fought back, writing that this law was vital to France — but not for the obvious reasons. “People are just simply happier when they take some downtime during the workday,” he says. “It’s good for their well-being.”

Diners sit outdoors on terraces in Paris on May 19, 2021, as cafes, restaurants and other businesses reopened as part of an easing of France’s lockdown due to COVID-19.

Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images

The lunch break, he is quick to point out, does lead to better health outcomes. It does make workers more productive. But, he argues, there’s a bigger philosophical point. The lunch break is not just good for individuals or the companies they work for. It’s good for society.

“People who eat together are able to talk about issues, and they can work out tensions or different opinions. They create a culture in which having different points of view is possible.”

It’s the lunch break as a driver of conviviality. A place for serendipity. A public good.

Bruegel’s side eventually prevailed. The lunch law suspension expired this year. French workers are going back to the daily ritual of a shared meal, carving out a space that they get to make their own, even as they do it together.

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Commission Recommends Making Ukraine a Candidate for European Union Membership

Ivan Clarke

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference after a meeting of the College of Commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels on Friday.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive arm on Friday recommended making Ukraine a candidate for EU membership, a first step on what was expected to be a long road for the war-torn country to join the 27-nation bloc.

The European Commission delivered its proposal to award Ukraine candidate status after a fast-tracked analysis of answers to a questionnaire. The Ukrainian government applied for EU membership less than a week after Russia invaded the country.

“Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We want them to live with us, the European dream.”

The leaders of the bloc’s existing members are scheduled to discuss the recommendation during a summit next week in Brussels. The European Commission’s endorsement, while a strong sign of solidarity with Ukraine, is likely to take years or even decades to materialize into EU membership.

Along with Ukraine, the European Commission also recommended giving neighboring Moldova EU candidate status. The commission also reviewed Georgia’s application but said the Caucasus nation first needs to fulfill a number of conditions.

Adding new members requires unanimous approval from all existing EU member nations. They have expressed differing views on how quickly to add Ukraine to their ranks. Ukraine’s bid received a boost when the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania visited the country Thursday and vowed to back its candidacy.

To be admitted, potential newcomers need to demonstrate that they meet EU standards on democratic principles and they must absorb about 80,000 pages of rules covering everything from trade and immigration to fertilizer and the rule of law.

Before Russia’s war in Ukraine, the European Commission repeatedly expressed concern in recent years about corruption in Ukraine and the need for deep political and economic reforms.

“Yes, Ukraine deserves a European perspective. It should be welcomed as a candidate country, on the understanding that important work remains to be done,” von der Leyen said Friday. “The entire process is merits-based. It goes by the book and therefore, progress depends entirely on Ukraine.”

Ukraine currently has has an association agreement with the EU, which is aimed at opening Ukraine’s markets and bringing it closer to Europe. It includes a far-reaching free trade pact. Von der Leyen said that due to the 2016 agreement, “Ukraine has already implemented roughly 70% of the EU rules, norms and standards.”

“It is taking part in many important EU programs,” she continued. “Ukraine is a robust parliamentary democracy. It has a well-functioning public administration that has kept the country running even during this war.”

Von der Leyen said the country should continue to make progress in the fields of rule of law and fighting corruption. She also cited the need to speed up the selection of high court judges.

Expediting Ukraine’s application by declaring it an official candidate would challenge the EU’s normal playbook for adding members. The degree to which Ukraine’s request for a fast-track accession represents a change in the EU’s standard operating procedure is evident from the experiences of other aspiring members.

Turkey, for example, applied for membership in 1987, received candidate status in 1999, and had to wait until 2005 to start talks for actual entry. Six so-called Western Balkan countries — Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo — have been in the EU waiting line for decades, and only Serbia and Montenegro have the candidate status that was proposed for Ukraine.

At their June 23 summit, EU heads of state and government therefore face a delicate balancing act: signaling to Ukraine that the door is ajar while reassuring other aspiring members and some of the bloc’s own citizens that they aren’t showing favoritism to Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday he was grateful to the European Commission’s recommendation to put his country and Moldova on the membership path. He called it “the first step on the E.U. membership path that’ll certainly bring our victory closer.”

Zelenskyy added that he “expected a positive result” from the EU summit in Brussels.

Earlier Friday, Zelenskyy said it was in all of Europe’s interest to see that Moscow is defeated in his country.

Speaking at an annual discussion forum in North Macedonia, Zelenskyy said that Russian’s actions even before the war have “challenged every nation on the continent, every region of Europe.”

“Today, there is not a single country left in Europe that would not have suffered from at least one of the many manifestations of Russian anti-European policies,” he said.

___

Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade.

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Eurovision Winner Ukraine Can’t Host Next Year’s Contest Because of the War

Ivan Clarke

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Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, winners of the Eurovision Song Contest, pose with their trophy in Krakovets, at the Ukraine border with Poland, on May 16. The U.K., which placed second, is in talks to host next year’s event instead of Ukraine due to the war.

Mykola Tys/AP

Mykola Tys/AP

It’s customary for the country that wins Eurovision to host the international songwriting competition the following year. But the winning country usually isn’t defending itself in war at the same time.

That’s the case for Ukraine, whose folk-rap group Kalush Orchestra won the contest last month. Frontman Oleh Psiuk told NPR right before the final, as Russia’s war continued to devastate the country, that he was confident that a “rebuilt, whole and happy” Ukraine would be able to host Eurovision 2023 if it were to win.

Sadly, a panel of public broadcasters and security experts have reached a different conclusion. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) — which operates Eurovision — announced on Friday that it is not a viable option for Ukraine to host next year’s contest.

It said it had worked with Ukraine’s public broadcaster, UA:PBC, and a number of third-party specialists to conduct an assessment and feasibility study given the issues posed by Russia’s invasion. The famously elaborate TV event needs 12 months of preparation and involves thousands of people, according to the EBU.

“Following objective analysis, the Reference Group, the ESC’s governing board, has with deep regret concluded that, given the current circumstances, the security and operational guarantees required for a broadcaster to host, organize and produce the Eurovision Song Contest under the ESC Rules cannot be fulfilled by UA:PBC,” it said.

That means the United Kingdom, as the runner-up, will potentially host next year’s event — which would be its first time doing so since 1998. The EBU said it’s now beginning discussions with the BBC, which a BBC spokesperson confirmed to The Guardian.

“Clearly these aren’t a set of circumstances that anyone would want,” the BBC spokesperson added. “After their decision, we will of course discuss the BBC hosting the Eurovision song contest.”

The EBU thanked the Ukrainian broadcaster for “their wholehearted cooperation and commitment in exploring all scenarios,” sharing in their disappointment that the country won’t be able to host. And it vowed to honor Ukraine as the reigning champion in other ways.

“It is our full intention that Ukraine’s win will be reflected in next year’s shows,” it added. “This will be a priority for us in our discussions with the eventual hosts.”

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Coronavirus FAQ: Should I Still Take a COVID Test Before Flying Into the U.S.?

Ivan Clarke

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Frank Augstein/AP

We regularly answer frequently asked questions about life during the coronavirus crisis. If you have a question you’d like us to consider for a future post, email us at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line: “Weekly Coronavirus Questions.” See an archive of our FAQs here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ended COVID-19 testing for airline passengers arriving to the U.S. from abroad. Why did they do that? Should I test anyway? And when?

Years from now, when Americans talk about foreign vacations during the pandemic era, they’ll recall the rush for souvenirs, that extra suitcase … and paying someone to stick a swab up their nose for the compulsory pre-flight COVID-19 test.

But now, that COVID test before travel won’t be necessary. As of June 12, the CDC no longer requires any passengers arriving to the U.S. to show a COVID recovery certificate or take a COVID test before traveling to the U.S. (Non-U.S. citizens, with few exceptions, must show proof of vaccination.)

The CDC first put its testing rule in place in January 2021, which required a PCR test within three days of travel. Then in December 2021, the agency required that a viral test be done one day before the flight, with the option of either a PCR test or a supervised rapid antigen test.

Last week, the CDC explained in its announcement why it was now ending the testing requirement. Uptake of the highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, effective therapeutics and a high rate of vaccine- and infection-induced immunity all contributed to lower risk of severe disease and death across the U.S., according to the agency. As a result, the CDC said the testing requirement, which was needed at an earlier stage of the pandemic, could be withdrawn.

But the announcement also recommended that travelers boarding a flight to the U.S. take a viral test within three days of travel — and not travel if they are sick. And long-standing CDC guidance has recommended testing three to five days after the flight in case you picked up the virus during travel.

Why you should test before flying to the U.S.

It’s a good idea to take a COVID test before boarding a flight to the U.S. – even though it’s no longer required — for a number of reasons, says Gigi Gronvall, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Knowing your COVID status can help you decide whether it’s safe to travel or whether to push back your flight, says Gronvall. For tourists, it can reduce the chance of you feeling ill on your vacation. And it can prevent other passengers from getting COVID in transit. “It’s especially important if you are at risk of severe disease because of age or underlying health conditions,” she adds.

How to test now

The best time to test before a flight, or any other event, is as close to the start time as possible. That’s because test results “are just a snapshot in time,” says Gronvall. A minute after getting negative results, you could be exposed to someone with the virus and suddenly be infected with COVID-19. For a flight, you might take a test a day before so that you’re not changing all your travel plans at the last minute if you test positive.

Because the tests are now voluntary, it’s up to you to decide what kind of viral test you’d like to take. While PCR tests are likely to be more accurate, it can take a day or more to get them back. So many people are going to take a rapid antigen test, which shows results in less than 15 minutes but can be give a false negative result if someone has a lower viral load – say, if they were very early in the course of their infection. Still, these at-home tests can be trusted if you get a positive result. They give false positives extremely rarely.

You’re probably best off taking a few rapid antigen tests with you on your trip. If possible, choose tests you’ve used before to minimize confusion and stress while you’re away. And keep the tests in their original packaging, even if it means you have to jettison other items in your suitcase, so that you’re sure you have all the components and instructions. Use these tests when necessary – for example, if you’ve had a COVID exposure — and before you get on the airplane, says Daniel McQuillen, an infectious disease specialist at Beth Israel Lahey Health in Burlington, Mass.

What to do if you test positive

If your test comes back positive while you are at your destination, you will need to isolate and postpone your return to the U.S. until it’s safe for you to travel, says Jasmine Reed, a CDC spokesperson. Your travel companions may need to quarantine, too. Follow all COVID recommendations and requirements at your local destination, she adds.

The CDC says it’s best to avoid travel for a full 10 days after your last exposure to someone with COVID-19. But if you must travel during days 6 through 10 after your last exposure, then:

Get tested at least 5 days after your last close contact. Make sure your test result is negative and you remain without symptoms before traveling. Properly wear a well-fitting mask, such as an N95 or KN95, when you are around others for the entire duration of travel during days 6 through 10.

Make sure that you can access health care while abroad. Talk to your doctor ahead of your trip to ask how to reach out if you test positive while out of the country. And make sure you have health insurance that will cover care if you need a doctor’s visit, medication or hospitalization if you get COVID-19 abroad. If your insurance policy covers care overseas (Medicare and Medicaid generally do not) ask for a letter that states that and have your insurance card with you. The State Department has information on buying coverage for care overseas.

Don’t ask for Paxlovid before you fly

You may have heard that there’s a drug that can help reduce the risk of progressing to severe disease if you do contract COVID-19 — and may wonder if you should pack it in your travel bag. Paxlovid received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in December 2021 for people at risk of severe COVID, including hospitalization and death, because of risk factors such as age, obesity, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

But experts, including Raymund R. Razonable, vice chair of infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic, advise against it. For one thing, says Razonable, under the drug’s EUA it can only be prescribed based on a positive viral test. Razonable says he’s had requests for the drug from people pre-travel, but he’s turned them down both because that’s in violation of the EUA and because the drug can be hard to manage. Paxlovid can have negative interactions with dozens of drugs, including vitamins and supplements. Patients who take it must work with their doctor or pharmacist to decide whether they can be off of certain drugs or reduce the doses for the five days of the drug’s course.

How to stay safe while traveling

Wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, like a plane, remains a good idea, says Gronvall. If people don’t feel like wearing it the whole time on a flight, they should at least consider wearing it during boarding and deplaning. “Often, air crews shut the air off then — so circulation of air, [which can help prevent virus transmission], goes way down, and that’s also when people are more crammed together.”

McQuillen also reminds people to take masks with them on any trip and to wear them in indoor public settings like airports to avoid getting sick while traveling. And make sure you’ve had your full vaccine doses and at least one booster dose, he says. That’s to ensure that if you do get COVID abroad, it’s likely to be less severe. “The vaccines are engineered to prevent ICU-level disease and death.”

Fran Kritz is a health policy reporter based in Washington, D.C., and a regular contributor to NPR. She also reports for the Washington Post and Verywell Health. Find her on Twitter: @fkritz

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