Most Americans are used to thinking of breakfast, lunch and dinner as universal: a bowl of cereal or a bagel in the morning, a sandwich at midday and the main meal of the day in the evening. Across the continent of Europe, however, there are a wide range of traditional habits for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- and a few other meals as well. If you're entertaining European guests, you may need to be ready for some different expectations. Alternatively, trying out European meal habits for a while may help you discover some new favorites.
European breakfasts can vary from light and simple to very elaborate. The traditional French breakfast consists of no more than a pastry or fresh bread with coffee or hot chocolate. By contrast, the traditional English breakfast is a massive affair, with sausages, bacon, mushrooms, eggs, cooked tomatoes, beans and toast or fried bread. In practice, however, this is reserved for weekends when people don't have to hurry off to work. If you intend to cook a traditional English breakfast, or "fry-up," remember to start the sausage first so that they're done when the rest of the meal is. In Poland, a traditional breakfast might include cheese curds with chives and spices, spicy sausage and fresh bread.
Traditional lunch patterns in Europe began to change over the late 20th century. Whereas historically lunches in France lasted well over an hour, comprising several courses and a glass of wine, the BBC reports that by 2012 they had shrunk to less than half an hour. In Spain, long lunch breaks originated from the need for farmers to stay out of the hot noonday sun; longer, more leisurely meals were common. By the 21st century, however, plans were underway to bring these habits in line with the rest of Europe's shorter lunches. Even though European habits are changing, the occasional French-style lunch -- if you're luck enough to control your own schedule -- can help make the work day more bearable and give you time to relax. Try it sometime and see how different the effect on your mental state is.
The main difference between European and American dinner habits is that Europeans typically dine later in the evening. In some cases, a European dinner might not start until 10 p.m., a time when some Americans would be beginning to think about bed. This is particularly true in Spain; by contrast, dinner in Denmark takes place much earlier. Dinner habits may be changing; a "Daily Mail" article reports that the average British dinner time is just before 8 p.m., two hours later than the traditional average. These changes may result from longer working hours. European guests may be surprised at how early Americans tend to dine, particularly if they're used to a longer, later lunch; if you mention "dinner time," be sure to specify when this actually is.
The Main Event
The main meal of the day varies from country to country. In Russia, lunch is customarily the main meal of the day, while in Britain this main repast is dinner. Communicating about meals with European guests or hosts can sometimes be confusing. For instance, in northern England, lunch is called "dinner," a reminder of a time when the midday meal was the largest. The evening meal is "tea" in some cases and "supper" in others; the differences in vocabulary are weighed down with class and regional significance.
- BBC French: Food and Drink
- Tasting Poland: Top 23 Polish Appetizers, Ingredients and Additions
- BBC: The Changing Face of French Lunchtimes
- Daily Telegraph: Spanish MPs Call for End to Long Lunch Breaks and Return to GMT
- The Guardian: Adiós, Siesta? Spain Considers Ending Franco's Change to Working Hours
- Daily Mail: Average Dinner Time Is Now 7.47 PM as Work Hours Eat into Our Meal Times
- Master Russian: Meals of the Day in Russia
- Put Learning First: Tea, Dinner or Supper?
- BBC: Stress-free Full English Breakfast
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images