Sarah Gardner: OK, so there’s a cultural disconnect between Americans and Europeans over vacation time. But we’re also on two different pages when it comes to work time. I’m actually not sure when my workday stops, between all my e-mails and the texts.
But in Europe, it’s a different story. And a lot of Americans who go to live and work there find themselves, shall we say, adjusting. And struggling to let go of their 24/7 work mentality.
Caitlan Carroll: I’m Caitlan Carroll, I’m an American journalist and I’m living in Germany. I’ve been here off-and-on since 2010.
One the big stereotypes in Germany is that everyone is very efficient, very punctual, very productive. And that is true to an extent, but that productivity comes within certain office hours. It’s not a culture that really thrives in the 80-hours weeks that the U.S. does. In Germany, your job… It’s important, it’s part of your life, but it’s not necessarily something that you have to sell your soul for.
There’s a real sense of moderation here. You work the hours that are set every week — maybe it’s 40 hours, maybe it’s 30 hours — and that’s enough. And when you do more, there’s the question of “But why? Why do you need to do more?” When you’re doing more, you’re sacrificing time somewhere else, maybe it’s time with family or time with friends. More is not necessarily better.
Vacations are very important here. As an American, I was used to getting two weeks off. But in Germany, there’s just an understanding that you probably get a month off every year, and that you take that time. People take long holidays during the summer and things kinda slow down here. Everything from politics to just local stores.
It just forces me to not put off my errands, to not put off my grocery shopping until I have nothing in the refrigerator, but to be a little bit more prepared. It actually is a little bit less stressful, because I’m not always running around like I normally am. It actually makes me be a little bit more cautious, maybe a little bit more German.
The upside of not being able to reach everyone at any time of the day, and not being able to get them on holidays, even when I need to, is that it forces me to also take that time off. So, I think it’s really reminded me it’s OK to have boundaries when it comes to work time, and that even in the news business, most things can wait.
Gardner: Caitlan Carroll is a now more relaxed American journalist living and working in Frankfurt.
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