I’ve learned the fun way (through extensive stays in each city) that culinary distinctions are just the tip of the business lunch iceberg that you need to look out for when it comes to the basics of dining with work mates in Barcelona, Bangalore and San Francisco. It turns out that to truly navigate this area like a native and fit in it’s pretty easy…if you are up for changing your habits almost 100% at times and goin’ with the flow!
Barcelona – plan to leave lunch a little tipsy!
It goes without saying that when a country is one of the world’s top wine producers that drinking wine will be a part of most any occasion – including work lunches. Every day all around the city you’ll see the blue collar set enjoying brandy or carejillos (coffee with a little something naughty in them) at lunch and the white collar set sipping down a glass or two of either wine or local Spanish beer. At almost every job I had, we drank with lunch every day. In total, I’ve lived 12 of my adult years in Spain so I didn’t realise that this wasn’t really commonplace until I took my first business trip to Germany. Well, it turns out the Germans drink apple juice, soda pop or (much to my giggle when I saw a really burly German colleague order it) milk! So there I was with my two Spaniard work mates, it was our first lunch with the Germans, and when we sat down we asked for the wine list and I swear you could hear crickets chirp! Everyone stopped and looked at us in total disbelief and as if we were alcoholics! We represented Spain well, though, and bought a bottle for the 3 of us and left our lunch hip-hop-HAPPY!
Barcelona is such a sunny place that virtually everyone goes out for lunch every day…and since many companies still have a two hour lunch (a straggler practice from the old ‘siesta’ nap traditions) it’s simply a fabulous break to recharge the battery. Junior team members may bring their lunch in to save money but they still head out to a park or to sit on the lawn or a nice bench. Generally the start of lunch is the fun collaborative task of debating ‘where to go today’ as the group heads out. A typical week for us included a Thai, Italian, Spanish and Japanese with maybe some Indian, Mexican or French thrown in from time to time. And of course, always with vino!
Bangalore – brown bag it, baby!
One thing that I didn’t expect to learn when I moved to India was that most people don’t go to restaurants. I mean, like ever! Aside from the cantina at work, most team members will go to a restaurant once or maybe twice per year maximum and that would be for dinner with family on a special occasion. So on my first day at work in Bangalore, I thought that the owners and other executive team members had arranged our catered lunch – which was served on the rooftop cantina – so that I could feel a real part of the team eating with the entire company. But then it happened again the next day, so I asked if the next day we could step out to one of the restaurants close to us and they just all shook their heads and said that this was where we all ate lunch – EVERY DAY. It turns out that the owners had their food sent over for them mid-morning from their home and the other execs either bring food their wives or moms cooked or that they prepared, or they ordered in like they had been doing for me. Every … lunch … every … day. It was pretty wild, and massively boring after eight years working in downtown Barcelona (except the part of learning to eat with only my right hand – that was pretty cool). I eventually talked them into going out for dessert sometimes but that happened very rarely.
Oh, and wine? Nooooooooo freakin’ way! Not only is wine reserved for drunks or the upper class (which worked out just fine for my social life), it’s not consumed during the day unless you want to bring shame to your family. Most Indians definitely live healthier when it comes to alcohol (again, not my friends but the majority of the population!), which is great. But man I sure missed wine at lunch! Living in Bangers definitely made it high on my list of things I missed.
San Francisco – think leafy, think takeout!
I’ve been working out of the New York and San Francisco offices this month for my new job and absolutely loving the healthy awesomeness that is lunch – especially in San Francisco’s Financial District. Team members have between mere minutes (based on their meeting schedule or workload) to up to an hour generally and everyone heads out for a little air and to grab lunch. There are lots of restaurants, pubs and cafes in the Financial District so people either dine in somewhere or they head out for take-out that they bring back and eat at the office. Now, none of this is sounding out-of-this-world and I’m sure that this is the rhythm of most any big city but what makes San Francisco unique is that everyone seems to eat salad or hunt out organic food! Seriously, it really blew my mind when I was walking around the first day, out looking for some lunch. Every second man or woman I passed on the street was carrying a clear plastic bowl or box with leafy greens and other bits. I couldn’t believe my eyes to be honest as I’d never seen so many salads being carried around a street before like that. It felt like I was in some crazy version of the Matrix!
In the Financial District, what’s also really amazing and very convenient is the amount of food trucks around. There is one per every few blocks more or less that I could see, some are posh and can be spotted on the Food TV Network, while others seem a bit more ‘street’ and less fancy. They vary from Indian to Mexican to healthy salad/wrap trucks and even some selling sweet delights. It’s pretty great, and very convenient since the Financial District is a ghost town on weekends so normal restaurants would really suffer if they popped up in mass quantity.
Every country has its fabulous cultural distinctions that influence not only what people eat but also the way they dine. It goes without saying that every city is special and wonderful…and it’s easy to fit in when I take my cue from work mates when it comes to lunch. Although, given the option, I would still prefer wine over water at lunch any day…that just doesn’t seem an option outside of Spain!
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