“Danish lunch”

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February 28, 2013 by Matt

Twice weekly cake, plus free coffee!

The title of this post is in speech marks because this isn’t a post about the types of food you can expect for lunch in Denmark. This is about the oddness of the institution that is Danish lunch. Here it is, in easy-to-digest list form (in case you’re actually on your Danish lunch break while you read this). (Disclaimer: sure, this might not be the case everywhere in Denmark, but in my experience, this is how it pans out).

– Lunch time is from 12 to 12.30.

– Most companies have an onsite canteen, where everyone eats together at the designated lunchtime.

– Food is supplied by an external catering company, except for larger companies where it makes sense for them to have their own kitchen too.

– Employees pay for their lunch out of their wages. It’s a reasonable rate and overall costs a lot less than I was paying out for lunch in London.

– We get cake on Mondays and Fridays, and when it’s someone’s birthday. On other days, my sweet tooth goes unsatisfied.

– Where I work, there are some other good food perks too – there is always bread, honey, cheese and chocolate slices (these pass for an acceptable bread topping in Denmark) available, as well as fresh fruit. And a great coffee machine. All of that’s free.

So that’s how it works. It might sound fairly well thought out (and in lots of ways it is) but as my handy pros and cons lists below will show, it’s something I’m still coming to terms with. Let’s get the negative out of the way – here are the downsides of this set up.

– The highstreet sandwich shop does not exist in Denmark. Bakeries and a couple of supermarkets sell ready-to-eat sandwiches, but the range is small and usually expensive. There’s simply no demand for it because of the points above.

– Because it’s all provided for you, there’s no need to go out at lunch, and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s actually frowned upon a little (Danes only get half an hour for lunch after all!).

– That half an hour is fine for just eating food, but if you did want to sneak out and run an errand, it’s a tall order. In the UK, I’d often eat and get some personal admin stuff done in my lunch break when needed (and I was one of those ‘eat at the desk’ kind of people, too).

– But even if there was time to go out and get some air, well, see point 1 in this list.

– You’re a slave to what’s provided. Our suppliers are pretty good but even on a good day the choice is two or three things, whereas in a standard British town, that choice would run in to the dozens, if not hundreds.

But like all of these difference between British and Danish life, it’s often a trade off, and there are few negatives here that don’t in one form or another result in a positive. And in this case, they are…

– It’s easy. Often it’s great to just head upstairs to the canteen, have a choice of hot and cold food laid out before you, and not have to even think about anything.

– It’s economical. Lunch in London was always a dangerous opportunity to splurge up to £10 in somewhere like Pret A Manger, just because there was stuff there that caught the eye. Here, it’s a set cost per month for what is essentially an eat-all-you-like buffet. Fortunately, I’ve never had a huge appetite.

– It’s sociable, and while I’m still in my first few months here, it’s a great chance to meet new colleagues that I may otherwise never have a conversation with.

– And finally, the biggest upside is that the knock-on effect of only having half an hour for lunch is that hometime comes earlier. It’s 5pm here, which is normal, but parents can leave at 4pm to pick their kids up (though most will come in at 8am to make the hours up).

That last point is the tip of the iceberg of a huge subject about the way the Danish state is set up to look after parents, but that’s not something I’ll go in to now.

So despite a couple of downsides, while I might still be getting used to Danish lunchtime here, there are more than enough advantages to make it another reason to love living in Copenhagen.

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