Sunday, June 20, 2010

Workingman Blues

The argument could be made that Americans work way too much. The term workaholic is more often complimentary than pejorative. Countless people I know sleep with their blackberries on their nightstands, or on the pillow beside them in place of partners, and are trained to wake at the sound of the little machine vibrating. That is, if they sleep at all, if they are not already awake shooting off e-mails, preparing for the day that is just a few hours away. The average vacation for those lucky enough to enjoy the luxury of vacation time is two weeks. Much of that time is often spent on calls to the office to check in on how affairs are going. All of this could be used to illustrate that Americans are too busy chasing the almighty dollar to take the time to enjoy life, or to rest and recuperate the energy burned in the chase. I think that in some cases this is definitely the case. When I was working in a publicly traded company, I knew that the lifestyle of many in that company was not for me at all. The ones who were not nearing burnout, though, seemed to thrive off the fast pace of the business. They enjoyed fighting with their numbers, which they dutifully tracked in countless interlocked spreadsheets that got bumped up to the corporate office seemingly every second.

That’s one extreme. The other extreme is a culture that takes frequent holidays, with many if not most workers getting the day off to celebrate. The majority of businesses in any given town will close for the entire day. It’s difficult to keep up with if you’re not used to the rhythm. Every other month I get a surprise holiday. When I am busy trying to keep my classes on or ahead of schedule, the word holiday turns into a curse. “Another F—ing holiday, great, behind again…”

Now that the World Cup is on, employers all over the city are being challenged to cope with a dwindled workforce any time Brazil plays a game. Most of them just close shop for the day and take part in the festivities—if you can’t beat them, join them. It’s not as if they will see a surge in customers or clientele on a game day anyway, unless they own a bar or restaurant. Ask someone to keep an appointment on a game day, and you risk a look of scorn that will turn your blood cold. I never encountered this in Boston—it was understood that if you shirked work to watch the Sox play, you could take the next day off, and the day after, and the day after….

So, that’s the culture here in my city. Like everything, it has its pros and cons. I do enjoy the extra time off now and then. One of my main reasons for moving here was more time to read, write, and study. On the other hand, it’s frustrating when I need something from a store, but find it closed due to a soccer match. I guess it doesn’t help that I have never cared for sports (admitting that to anyone around here raises a cry—yes, an actual cry—of disbelief). It’s all about perspective.

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