"This summer, I was fortunate enough to spend six-and-a-half weeks studying abroad in London. Amid exploring the historical sites and immersing myself in the vast culture that the city offers, I actually had to do some schoolwork. This included an internship at a travel website and a cruise website, in addition to a supplementary class that met each week. While doing various jobs for the two sites, I had to observe my colleagues for my class to gain a sense of the working environment in London. I felt like I was on a safari at times the way the professor framed the questions I had to answer, including watching the Brit in their native habitat; the office. While I sometimes laughed at my assignments, which asked me to overly dissect the difference between the British and Americans, I couldn’t help but realize the most significant difference between the two cultures was the stress level.
"I first realized something was different when one day I was having trouble trying to finish my set task by quitting time. I was nervous about breaking the news; however my British supervisor simply said, "Oh, you can just take care of that next time." What? In an American company, you would be asked to stay late and get the assignment done for fear of halting the sacred flow of productivity.
"And that wasn’t the only thing. As my time in London went by, I noticed my colleagues seemed to be less stressed about the work at hand. They take time out of their day to joke around with each other and Skype their American colleagues. They would take numerous tea and coffee breaks and even enjoy the occasional walk around the area. Even with all that included, they actually have a shorter workday and despite this relaxed view, they were still getting their work done efficiently. That’s when it hit me: Europeans can’t be concerned with the stress of work because they’re too busy living and enjoying life.
"There is no doubt that America is a stressed nation by contrast. We constantly think about the rat race and our struggle to "get ahead" (whatever that means). Too many of us are piling on too much so we don’t miss an opportunity that could further our career or personal life. Parents, particularly mothers, must micromanage their lives in order to see their kids, but without sacrificing what is necessary to keep their careers on the desired path. Talk about a balancing act. In essence, we fear if we take one misstep, we’ll fall so far behind that it will be impossible to catch up.
"But in Europe, work is not the be all and end all. Instead, Europeans are more concerned with making sure they don’t waste their time worrying about life inside a cubical and their labor laws support that mindset. On average, they have more vacation time compared to their counterparts in the US. In addition, in the UK, the average length of maternity leave is 52 weeks, considered the worst in Europe; in the United States it is six weeks. Recently, Massachusetts decided to push the envelope by increasing the maternity leave to a shocking eight weeks.
"So why doesn’t America adopt a European mindset? Is it because we are too attached to our America-centric way of life to be bothered with how other countries live their lives? I wonder, since that hasn’t been working for us lately. Currently, our nation is one of the most overweight nations in the world, the US dollar is weaker than the Euro and the Great Britain pound (as of Wednesday, one US dollar only bought 64 percent of a British pound) and as a whole, we are ignorant of global affairs and therefore are looked down on (how many of us can name the Prime Minister of Spain without checking Wikipedia?). We can’t even argue that we have the greatest city in the world anymore since London, Paris, Madrid and Rome all rival New York City as centers of commerce and culture.
"Now before the pitchforks come after me with the cries that I am an America-hating liberal who doesn’t appreciate this great country of ours, I should say that I am truly proud to be an American. I am also not suggesting throwing all caution to the wind and abandoning our responsibilities (even the majority of Europeans don’t do that). I am merely suggesting that there are things we can adopt from the European relationship with labor that could make our country an overall happier and more relaxed place to live in. And who wouldn’t want that?