May 30, 2011


Just an infinity edge pool in a mansion. No big deal.

Some years ago I was friends with a Canadian-American who was dating a German girl. Much of their relationship was long distance (San Diego to Munich long distance, not one Southern Californian county to another bullshit long distance), but it was ridiculously obvious how much they cared for one another and she ended up moving back here and they got married and are presumably still ridiculously happy in love. However, while they were long distance they still were able to meet about once a month. For like a year. To put this in perspective, when The Ex and I were doing our shitty version of "long distance," which seems really dumb when you compare it to what our friends had, we didn't even see each other that often; we had the ability to talk on the phone whenever we wanted and could have spent every weekend together had we really wanted to. Obviously we didn't really want to, or we would have made it happen.

Even still, I found myself wondering how this German girl was able to visit the States about once a month. The Canadian-American took advantage of the multiple conferences held around the country (which were available to him as a grad student) and his German doctor girlfriend got permission to go to these same conferences. They were both paid to spend a night or two together in various cities. God damn was I jealous.

But one thing that really helped to make it that easy to spend so much time together is the way Germany views vacation time. How she explained it, something like every hour of OT she worked, which happened nearly every day, she accrued vacation time in lieu of extra pay. So a 10-hour day got her half a day of vacation time. And that's on top of the regular 4-6 weeks of mandatory vacation Germans just get, which is on top of national holidays. Fuck, America sucks sometimes.

So my Canadian-American friend and his German girlfriend got through their year or so of long distance dating with the help of Skype, international conferences and her nation's incredible vacation system. And The Ex and I didn't even talk on the phone every day.

America has always been stingy with vacation time. Work seems to be valued above everything else, and time spent away is almost grudgingly, like "oh, if I have to take this 3-day weekend I will, but I'm not happy about it". How did we get this way? Why is it so bad to be excited for the weekend, for a 3-day weekend, for a week off or for regularly scheduled days off? Why is it so looked down on us expressing our happiness at being away from work? This boggles my mind especially after realizing how few Americans actually love their work. We end up doing jobs that we're good at or jobs that happen to make us a lot of money, not necessarily jobs that make us happy or fulfill a part of our soul. But even if we all did love our jobs, enjoy waking up every morning to go to work, and truly enjoy our time spent at work, we still need time away. No matter how much those lucky few truly love their jobs (and even if we all truly loved our jobs), we need time to focus on ourselves, our families, our lives and interests outside of work. And it feels like we should all be pretending that our jobs are the only thing we need.

The upside is America is slowly realizing the need for a work-life balance. Some companies even use their flexible understanding as a way to grab valuable employees. Though this is great, and it may lead up to us actually playing on the same level as other countries, it feels really weird that some companies get to brag about offering vacation time, health benefits, and other outside-life-related perks. It feels especially weird to think that other countries seem to get so much more for their time and money: Americans say that other countries have higher taxes, but those same countries have free universal health care and some have free universities. Overtime worked translates into more time off, which makes more sense than extra money. Other countries seem to recognize the link between healthy lives and productive employees. When is it our turn?

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