Top 10 Letters
Europeans on why they like working less.
12:00 AM, Sep 29, 2003
THE DAILY STANDARD welcomes letters to the editor. Letters will be edited for length and clarity and must include the writer's name, city, and state.
Irwin M. Stelzer's European Holiday is long overdue. I am tired of reading snide comments in the New York Times about the "quality of life" in Europe. Or in the Atlantic, which this month carries an interview with an American novelist who argues that Americans are neither freer nor more prosperous than the Europeans. The truth is that they are both. As a writer who draws her checks from her American publisher this novelist doesn't really "live" in France; she's simply a long-term tourist.
The day-to-day reality of Europe is just as Stelzer describes it. I recall giving a ride to a young Frenchman a couple of years ago. He was 18, had just left school, and couldn't find a job. "You are French?" I asked. "Unfortunately yes," he replied.
It's hard to imagine any young American of the same age saying something like that.
Though I'm and American and conservative, I'm by turns perplexed and bemused by fellow conservatives who wear the overlong work hours of Americans as some sort of badge proving our superiority over Europeans.
Why should Americans be so proud of living to work and having their entire sense of self-worth revolve around long hours at the office? I find it bizarre that so many Americans think 2 weeks of vacation a year is a luxury and that the 4-6 week European norm is somehow evidence of laziness. There is more to life than trudging to the office. We should work to live, not merely live to work.
Stelzer speaks of the so-called American balance between work and play. Please. It's the Europeans who have found the balance. Americans are tilted wildly toward work, work, and more work, at the expense of any real enjoyment of the finer things in life. Between the American's Protestant Work Ethic and the European's Dolce Vita and Dolce Far Niente, I'll take the later every time!
I was amused to discover that Europeans envy us because they have more vacation time. It recalls the time I spent as a meagerly paid graduate student and instructor at the University of Bordeaux.
Oh, how I hated those long vacations, exploring the Roman ruins at Nimes, sunning on the Riviera. Oh, didn't I dream of staying at a Holiday Inn at Disneyland while I lounged in cafes, talking to friends, sipping Bordeaux, savoring steak au poivre.
I'd much rather have spent the time grading papers and writing lesson plans than exploring museums with my girlfriend. Damn those French!
Also, I couldn't stand our winter break, taking off to the Alps in a beat up Renault my English friends and I bought--I'd have much preferred working, writing inane faxes instead of slaloming down the pristine slopes (students get subsidized, so ski tickets were dirt cheap).
Now I'm back in California, spending hours at work followed by hours in traffic. (That dirt cheap, convenient public transport was surely a communist plot!) I now realize how miserable I was in France. I much prefer living in an office to living life.
Actually, opportunities for choice in balancing vacation and work are limited on both sides of the Atlantic. A white collar American usually cannot trade income for leisure. Either he conforms to the hours demanded by the corporate culture or he doesn't work at all. And unfortunately, most companies are run by senior managers who got where they are because they work 60 hour weeks. Imagine working into a manager's office and telling him, "I want to live a balanced life--build in time for leisure, exercise, and charity work. So from now on I'll be maintaining a 40 hour work schedule. And I'll trade that for a smaller bonus." Never going to happen. So you either go along or opt out all together. Not much choice there.
Who needs it? If you can come up with a rational middle ground, I'd love to hear it.
Andrei Codrescu has an odd perspective on morality. (Katherine Mangu-Ward, Leni and Eddie) Not only did he err in placing Edward Teller in Hell with Leni Riefenstahl, but he also wrote a book not long ago lionizing Countess Erzebet Bathory, the infamous lesbian serial killer who murdered dozens of innocent girls from the area surrounding her castle, sometimes bathing in their blood (collected after the girls perished in Bathory's "iron maiden"). In an excerpt from a book review, Codrescu spoke of Bathory as an exemplar of empowerment of women.