Even though I’m not in elementary school anymore, I like packing a lunch (or at least some snacks!) if I know I’ll be out all day. The last time I went to Paris and knew I’d be stuck in an office all day, I stuffed some leftovers in a plastic grocery store bag with an ice pack and shoved it in my backpack. We do the same thing when we do long walks with Dagny and want to eat in the park. I figured it was time to buy a lunch box once and for all after my one ice pack exploded, but would it be easy to find one? Nope.
The French don’t do lunch boxes
On the surface, living in France can appear very similar to life in the USA. I’ve said this before and believe it to be true most of the time, but then you start to see little differences creep in that remind you that life here is not the same. Case in point? Lunch boxes. Good luck finding one in France if you want to take your sandwich from point A to B.
Lunch boxes are so commonplace in my mind that I wrongly assumed you could find one anywhere in France. Like the grocery store or a home goods store. That is not the case.
In the USA, lunch boxes are extremely common for school-age kids, commuters and anyone who doesn’t eat lunch at home and doesn’t want to drop $10+ on takeout. They come in all different styles including hard boxes and soft bag styles and even ones adorned with popular kids’ characters from movies to give your lunch some style. You can get a lunch box at Target, online, the grocery store, etc. and there are a plethora of styles from which to choose.
The other day I was packing up a few sandwiches to take with us and I asked Tom where I could get a lunch box since I figured it was about time. I wasn’t looking for anything fancy. He said, “Oh, we don’t really have those.” Really??? Really.
What do they have in France?
I thought about it for a second and realized I had never seen any type of lunch box while out and about.
I’ve seen small coolers and insulated bags for frozen products at the grocery store — we have those in the US too — as well as bigger coolers for camping and all kinds of handbags and totes that aren’t for food. But what about an insulated lunch bag? Or a kids’ lunch box in a snappy color? Can’t say I’ve seen any of those.
Luckily for fellow lunch box seekers out there, in some of the more trendy stores you may be able to find an American-style lunch box. I actually saw a pink one in Galeries Lafayette last weekend and it said le lunch box on it. But it was all alone on the shelf nestled in with other hip little trinkets.
Still not quite sure if lunch boxes were a thing (that maybe I just hadn’t come across), I looked up the word lunch box on handy WordReference and they offered a translation of boîte à lunch in Canadian French but nothing for France.
Why? The concept is foreign.
French people do understand what a lunch box is and some probably have found one somewhere, but they don’t need them for daily life as much as we do in the USA, so duh, that’s why they’re not commonplace. A lunch box is part of American culture. Kids have the option to bring their lunch to school each day. That doesn’t exist in France. If you’re a school-aged kid, you either eat a hot meal served in your school’s cafeteria or you go home to eat with your family. No lunch box needed! As an adult, if you don’t commute to work, you probably go home for an hour or so to eat. And even if you do commute to work, you probably don’t pack your food and wolf it down at your desk for a working lunch (some professions do I’m sure, but it’s not the norm like it was for me in the US).
If you do bring your food with you somewhere once in a while like on a hike, you probably opt for a little personal cooler box thing and that works just fine. Going to get myself one this weekend!
Yes I never saw an american style lunch box in France. You can maybe find a bento box in japanese store, it’s fancy now.
When I must bring lunch at work, I just put my sandwich in aluminium foil or if it’s an other meal, I just put it in a platic box (like tupperware).
No one steals your food? We even have these lunchboxes with locks because in so many offices (well maybe not SO many but it happens) people’s food gets stolen!!
It’s true, my coworkers who bring their lunch mostly just put a tupperware container in their bag, no lunchbox involved! Also, “le lunch box,” lol.
There’s something about a cool lunch box that I love that beats out a plastic container any day. Do people actually say le lunch box? My FIL who is here right now had no idea what I was saying until I explained it to him. The 60+ crowd has no clue.
I have no idea, but now I want to ask around and see if anyone knows what “un lunch box” is!!
We don’t really do lunch boxes in the UK either apart from ones for very young school children. We have the small cool bags but I don’t bother with them and just use a Tupperware or similar container….so far no-one’s stolen my lunch.
Happy to hear it — you must have a civilized office. New Yorkers are nuts!
Really?? I’ve never noticed that!
In Belgium ALL kids have a lunchbox, it’s called “boîte à tartines”! 🙂
It’s so natural here that I was certain it was the same in France 😀
So interesting that even though France and Belgium are so close to each other that the concept of a lunch box hasn’t yet crossed the border!
Indeed! I looked a bit online and all the websites selling “boîtes à tartines” are Belgian! I wouldn’t have noticed without your post! 😀
It’s a bit sad for French kids, lunchboxes are so cute! Kids choose them very carefully here (mostly Cars/Spiderman for the boys, Hello Kitty/Frozen for the girls 😀 )
If i had your address, i’d send you one and a cool citrus zinger too! About a year ago, I found one of my son’s Batman lunchbox. He’s 28 now. He said, Mom, never throw that away….
Aww that’s so sweet, Laura, but I wouldn’t want you to spend the money to do that. I’ll find one somewhere 😉 Love that you kept the Batman one!
I find that weird because here in Australia lunch boxes are common place, yes you can chose to order your lunch from the school canteen but most students in years kinder to 6 take their lunch to school, those in high school years 7 to 12 often buy their lunch but still some take them as well
Yup seems very similar to the USA!
Weird!!! I do find it weird that here in Canada the kids don’t get cooked school meals though.
As Aurore said, in Belgium you can easily find a “boite à tartine” as kids and some adults bring their own lucnh to school / work.
I don’t know what you exactly means when you talk about lunch box but more and more people bring their lunch to work in France. Not to school because of what you explained but to work yes.
When I was still living in France I brought my lunch to work and so did most of my colleagues. I had a compartmented kind of tupperware, a tupperware salad bowl or a regular tupperware that i put in a small cooler and that was it. You can find also find bento boxes.
Roger Middleton says
My family and I are moving have just moved to the states from France and when my son had gone to his first day of school he had realized that all of the other students had lunch boxes and this is all very new to us. I had no clue that these were extremely common for most people in the United States and as you had mentioned, especially for school age kids. The culture is very different here, I’ll have to start searching for a lunch box for my son now that we’re in America.
Hi roger, in what part of the US are you living? Hope everyone is treating you OK 🙂
Yes, lunchboxes are very common for school-age children who don’t buy lunch in the cafeteria. I had a really nice insulated lunchbox with little compartments. School lunches in the US are nothing like how they are in France. Usually not a hot meal for lunch in the US. Lots to get used to, right? Thank you for stopping by
Really? I’ve seen them in lots of places – here, for examole https://www.natureetdecouvertes.com/outdoor/piquenique-lunchbox/lunchbox?gclid=CjwKCAiA07PRBRBJEiwAS20SIJLqWj8ZLDbyzaD0pSjAP7R5NvCj9Ds6Hy-9HBT50R2O680TAcsh3RoCgtIQAvD_BwE
And in Bordeaux, some really nice ones in Bejottes, the iconic hardware shop.
Hi there, I wrote the post a couple of years ago so maybe lunch boxes have caught on a little more since then. I know you can find them in bigger cities, but generally speaking, lunch boxes are a cultural difference. French kids go home for lunch or eat at the cantine in most cases and it’s not commonplace for parents to pack a lunch each morning like it is in the US, so no need for a lunch box. But for a day out, or camping, etc., there’s definitely a place for them. As with a lot of things in other countries, you can find them in France but they aren’t always used the same way or are as widespread IMHO.