Sunday, 10 February 2008

Les Tickets Resto

I may not have fully-functional health insurance, voice mail or a door to my office, but my employer is quite generous when it comes to lunch. Although it’s now giving way to salads and sandwiches, the tradition of a proper mid-day meal is practically enshrined in French working contracts. Accordingly, most employers contribute to lunch costs through vouchers exchangeable at virtually all simple venues. Known as tickets resto, or tickets restaurant, employer and employee split the costs of a monthly pack of 21 vouchers, each with a face value of 8 to 10 euros.

Through some combination of thrifty eating, relatively frequent travel outside of France and, I suspect, an oversupply of voucher packs at my office, I always seem to have a handful of extras. As a result I’ve discovered that while rules governing the use of vouchers are theoretically quite strict, they can often be employed for items far more frivolous—and enjoyable—than my frugal paninis and salads.

The first area of my extracurricular voucher use is evening, weekend and holiday meals. Some places won’t take vouchers on Sunday or les jours fêriês, and fancier bistros and brasseries don’t ever accept them. Nonetheless, my employer and I have jointly funded at least half a dozen pho outings, as well a string of lunches, ranging from couscous to steak frites, during G’s vacations here. The most outrageous—though perfectly legitimate—was a picnic meal of three different types of stupendous quiche from one of the city’s most upscale bakeries, completed with an architecturally-impressive chocolate dessert.

I’ve also discovered that both my local supermarket and the food halls at Paris’ department stores will usually accept vouchers for most items, even, on several splendid occasions, for alcohol. Leaving the Bon Marche with a half-bottle of Trimbach Gewürztraminer vendages tardives, one of the most luscious dessert wines made in Alsace, and an equal quantity of artisanal plum eaux de vie (a highly aromatic digestif), I felt as if I had done something vaguely illicit.

Prosaic only by comparison are the tins of line-caught fish in olive oil, 10 bars (and counting) of Pralus, my new favourite chocolate, herb-infused confitures for cheese and the goose that adorned our holiday table.

For the French, tickets resto are simply a fact of working life, a deserved contribution towards the daily plat du jour or sandwich. For me, while the economic logic doesn’t really work, they offer a powerful incentive, even on the worst of days, for showing up. Because who else besides the French are going to subsidise my wine and chocolate?

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