France used to be the home of the three-hour lunch, complete with wine, cheese, and maybe some spirits to push indolent workers through the rest of their day. But times have changed, and so have eating habits—these days, reports the Washington Post, the French are scarfing down sandwiches in front of computers just like their American cousins. The transformation is ruinous to neighborhood cafés, which are closing in record numbers.
More than 2,000 cafés went out of business last year, hammered by new anti-smoking laws and the global recession, while sales at McDonalds in France rose by 11%. An older generation still clings to the rituals of the noontime meal, but young French workers have less affection for them—and can barely afford a $20 lunch anyway. "With their limited buying power," said one consultant, "the sandwich is an obvious solution."