German lunch culture is just not something I have been able to fully embrace. And it's an important part of the culture here- at least in the workplace. If you ever get a job here, there are some things you need to know about lunch. First and foremost, lunch is important. Germans don't do a quick sandwich from the corner deli or a granola bar and yogurt at their desk between emails, phone calls, and meetings. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, it is usually hot, and meat and potato heavy. Some companies even serve beer in the company cafeteria.
It's also the usual practice to eat lunch with your colleagues in the work cafeteria. It's a pretty important time to socialize with colleagues, and it would definitely be looked down upon if you never joined others for lunch.
To that end, lunch is considered the most important networking time of the day. Many people have their lunch calendars booked out for weeks. I actually really like that lunchtime often breaks down hierarchical barriers. Board members will happily eat lunch with their secretaries, and engineers with those on the business side. No one is sadly shuffling around, being shunned from the "cool table" and banished to eat alone in a corner à la high school. It's inclusive and everyone is invited to join the table. Also, there are still some lingering old fashioned manners here (it's quite nice actually) and it is the usual practice to wait for everyone to join the table with their food before eating, and also to wish your colleagues a "guten Appetit".
So why do I not look forward to lunch then? Well, mostly it's the cafeterias. What can I say? It's cafeteria food and I just don't like it (and no matter how "good" people claim their company's cafeteria might be, they're all lying. It's mass-produced, highly-subsidized cafeteria food, and really, there is just nothing good about that. Except that it's fairly cheap). I usually just want a good sandwich, or a salad, and I miss the ready availability of those über-American lunch items... I try hard to bring my lunch as much as possible, so then I at least have only myself to blame if lunch turns out to be less than appetizing.
But brown bagging it is definitely not a normal practice in Germany. Most people are rather surprised when they see me pulling out my trusty lunch bag, curious about what I brought for lunch, or skeptical about whether my homemade provisions are adequate for the lunchtime meal (and if you're wondering how Germans manage to eat such large lunches and still function afterwards, I continually ask myself the same question, but they somehow just do. Maybe it's just a matter of being used to it. Also, they barely eat anything at night- usually just some bread, cheese, salami, etc. - it's a reverse of the American meal tradition of sandwiches at lunch and a heartier, meat-based meal at dinner).
Actually, maybe I am looking forward to lunch tomorrow. I have a pretty decent Vietnamese-style salad to bring with me (so much better than the inevitable over-cooked pasta, under-spiced meat and vegetables, and re-heated frozen what-have-yous that will inevitably be on offer).
Oh, and does anyone else think that the greeting "Mahlzeit" is one of quirkiest, yet somehow wonderful, phrases in the German language? It basically translates to "mealtime" and between the hours of, say, 11:00 and 2:00, it's the standard greeting given as you pass anyone in the hallway/street. I'm sure it's just a shortening of a longer phrase wishing you a lovely mid-day lunch break, but I love that it's just sort of a grunt, a nod of the head, and one word: Mahlzeit. I'm sure if aliens were to land in Germany they would wonder why the hell everyone goes around in the middle of the day just repeating one word "mealtime" "mealtime" over and over to everyone they see.