Americans have their holidays in perspective

Mark Steyn really doesn’t like people who take holidays on a regular basis. And that means us Europeans.

But Paris in August, like London ”over Christmas,” is in itself a symbol of flight — flight from work. In 1999, the average ”working” German worked 1,536 hours a year, the average American 1,976. In the United States, 49 percent of the population is in employment, in France 39 percent. From my strictly anecdotal observation of German acquaintances, the ideal career track seems to be to finish school around 34 and take early retirement at 42. By 2050, the pimply young lad in lederhosen serving you at the charming beer garden will be singlehandedly supporting entire old folks’ homes. If tax rates were to be hiked commensurate to the decline in tax base and increase in welfare obligations, there would be no incentive at all to enter the (official) job market. Better to stay at school till 38 and retire at 39. That’s why America’s richer, and why, though the Europeans preen about their kinder, gentler society, customers of Amazon.com have pledged more money to disaster relief in the Indian Ocean than the French government.

Argh, is there even any point in arguing – it hardly seems worth it. Yes we love lots of holidays, its great. So there. Beats working your ass off.

Oh and Steyn has more on the stinginess thing, and he even mentions humble Ireland:

Jan Egeland, the Norwegian bureaucrat who’s the big humanitarian honcho at the UN, got the ball rolling with some remarks about the “stinginess” of certain wealthy nations. And Clare Short piled in, and then Polly Toynbee threw in her three-ha’porth, reminding us that ” ‘Charity begins at home’ is the mean-minded dictum of the Right”. But even Telegraph readers subscribe to the Great Universal Theory. On our Letters Page, Robert Eddison dismissed the “paltry $15 million from Washington” as “worse than stingy. The offer – since shamefacedly upped to $35 million – equates to what? Three oil tycoons’ combined annual salary?”

Mr Eddison concluded with a stirring plea to the wicked Americans to mend their ways: “If Washington is to lay any claim to the moral, as distinct from the military, high ground, let it emulate Ireland and Norway’s prompt and proportionate attempts to plug South-East Asia’s gaping gap of need and help avert a further 80,000 deaths from infection and untreated wounds.”

If America were to emulate Ireland and Norway, there’d be a lot more dead Indonesians and Sri Lankans. Mr Eddison may not have noticed, but the actual relief effort going on right now is being done by the Yanks: it’s the USAF and a couple of diverted naval groups shuttling in food and medicine, with solid help from the Aussies, Singapore and a couple of others. The Irish can’t fly in relief supplies, because they don’t have any C-130s. All they can do is wait for the UN to swing by and pick up their cheque.

11 thoughts on “Americans have their holidays in perspective”

  1. I don’t really know why anyone argues this point. So, Europeans choose to take long holidays. Fine. Americans generally don’t have as many days off. Fine. Each organizes their work lives/societies as they see fit.

    Envy is at the root of cribs about European non-working? I don’t think so. If Americans wanted more holidays, they’d have them. My brother is an electrician. Everytime the issue of holidays comes up, the union opts for wage increases over paid days off. He has none. ZERO. That’s how the electricians (IBEW) want it.

  2. Here is one American who would be happy for more paid vacation. Enjoying life is much more important to me than making lots of dough. Although, don’t expect me to pay more in taxes…

  3. Thanks John for the insight – I really think it just boils down to a different view on life – neither Americans or Europeans are correct I guess – just different.

  4. Well, no, except that neither individual consumption, economic growth or relative political power is based on how many holidays you have. The Americans, Australians and other Asians already put in as many hours as the Japanese at about 1900 or so, while Europe has steadily sunk to the Italian level of 1500 or lower. Many years of late nights have convinced me that if you want to get anything done, rather than just coast, you have to put in more hours. Even if you’re not billing them like lawyers, you just need the faster reactions and ability to speak to people far away in their working hours.

  5. But, Peter, what if Europeans choose to have lower levels of individual consumption, economic growth and relative political power? I live in Europe and disagree with that view, but I think many Europeans are quite content with it. Of course, it’s predicated on the US never withdrawing the defense umbrella, but that seems pretty unlikely for quite a while anyway.

    What I really object to are the EU-mandated laws against overtime. I think the limit is something like 48 hours per week.

  6. And, of course, personal experience is not really that useful, but when I worked for Citibank in NY I found that many of my workmates put in late hours simply because they had nothing else to do. They’d half work during the day and then get down to business around 5pm. I’d show up at 7:45, work to 5:30 with 15 mins for lunch, but they’d still want me to work late when we were working on some joint project or other.

    Productivity – particularly in industries where it’s more difficult to measure – doesn’t always correspond with hours worked.

  7. John, you’re right about office presenteeism. However, the problem with the shorter working hours is, however, that what the other 450 million Europeans do with their time does strongly affect the society around me. I think this is still a persistant cultural difference between London and Dublin, although I doubt that it will hold in all industries.

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