An Ode to the Long Lunch

February 11, 2014

I have been traveling to Italy for both business and pleasure for years. I have often said that I feel more myself there than I do here in my own country. I was never sure why. It’s completely true for me, but I could not put my finger on the reason. Until now.

The three hour ‘riposta.’

Our country has an incredible work ethic. If you play by the rules and work hard; if you put in overtime; work longer than the other guy, you often win. But many years ago, I began to wonder what, exactly we won. Stress, ulcers, anxiety, insomnia, emotional eating, relationship troubles all seem to be the prizes we ‘win’ for all our efforts. Oh, sure, we also have big houses, flat screen television sets, iPhones, iPads, fancy cars and frequent flyer miles, but there’s a price we are paying and I wonder if it’s worth it.

When I was younger, I lived in Italy for a time and at first, I found their three-hour lunches to be ludicrous. How did these people expect to get anything done with three hours taken out of the middle of their day? I quickly learned that the break we took made for extremely productive work hours.

Italians have the reputation of being a bit less than ambitious, of valuing a good meal, bottle of wine, coffee and time with friends and family over achievement in the workplace. But that’s not true. What I have discovered is that Italians (and other cultures, I am sure…) have life in perspective. They have learned what is really of value to them and what isn’t. And remember…this is also the culture of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Galileo…Gucci, Ferragamo, Versace, Valentino…the Opera and tremendous contributions to art, fashion, food and science. All done with three-hour lunches…

The three-hour lunch can really teach us a lesson. Often when tourists arrive in Italy, they want to eat lunch as quickly as possible so they have more time to shop and sightsee. They quickly discover that lingering over the midday meal, enjoying a leisurely coffee or glass of wine, savoring every bite of a well-prepared meal, and watching people walk by far exceeds that pair of shoes that they thought they could not live without. They quickly discover the meaning of ‘La Dolce Vita.’

There’s a lesson in observing and adopting the more leisurely lifestyles of other cultures. You discover that you can achieve and have a life. You can work hard and have time to play. You can change the world with your mission and laugh around the table with friends and family. You can work internationally and turn off the phone.

On a recent trip abroad, I re-discovered my balance. It’s my personal goal to carry a small piece of La Dolce Vita in my day to day life. And while the three-hour lunch may not be feasible in America, the spirit of it is: keep things in their proper perspective. Remember that old cliché: no one ever wished they had spent more time at the office.