ON NOT WORKING….Since today is one of those rare days off for all most many Americans, I hereby present (in response to this) the following meditation on not working from Andrew Hammel, an American in D?sseldorf.

Happy Fourth, everyone!

I admit, there’s enough of the workaholic in me that it took me a while to adapt to the German work ethic. I still do 3 or 4 hours of work on the weekend, just to silence my workaholic conscience. But other than that, I am delighted with the work/life balance here in Europe. Here are some pieces of advice for my fellow Americans who choose to move to Europe:

  • Don’t brag to other people about how hard you work. If you go up to someone in Europe and say “I work 10 hours a day, six days a week, 51 weeks a year. Look how much I achieve!” you’ll get the same reaction you would in America if you said “I wash my hands exactly 169 times a day. Look how clean they are! Look! Look!!!

  • Learn your environment. Take into account how much work you can really expect from Europeans. Don’t expect anything to get done in August, don’t expect a response to your email the same day. If you really need to get in touch with someone while they are on vacation, or on the weekend, you won’t be able to. Which means not that they are being irresponsible. It means you don’t really need to get in touch with them.

  • Change your standards. Realize that when someone complains about being horribly overworked, even though you know they are working about 40 hours a week, accept it. By their standards, they are working very hard. Helpful thought-experiment: Europeans pay about $5/gallon for gas. Wouldn’t you want them to display compassion for you when you complain about paying $2?

But the most important lesson is: enjoy your free time! Pay attention to the people you are with, and you’ll notice that they do things with their free time. They spend lots of time with their friends and family, they pursue hobbies much more complex than catching up on all the episodes of Sex & the City, they visit museums, read complex books, drink a whole lot, go to parties, fairs, and circuses, and take lots of vacations. Imitate them. And then decide whether you’d really give that all up to make $5,000 more a year. If the answer is still “gimme the $5,000,” move back to the U.S.