I can pretty safely say that the concept of “time off” is blurred in corporate America. On some level, it’s convenience.
Before going on a study abroad program in Germany, I was warned to stock up on groceries during the week. “STORES ARE NOT OPEN ON THE WEEKEND,” I was told.
As an American, that was confusing. But the explanation for it made sense. No one wants to work on the weekend. So yes, places aren’t open.
I know that’s different now, with things primarily being closed on Sunday, if that.
When I moved to the Netherlands, I did brace myself for the culture shock of stores not being open on the weekends. But unless you live in a small village, that’s just not the case. Supermarkets, clothing shops, grocery stores— they’re all open. Just not for very long.
In the US, I could go to a clothing store at 8pm no problem. In the Netherlands, fuh-gedda-bout-it.
To me, that’s where I see people’s time being valued. No one is forced to work hours that you’re supposed to be spending with friends, family, or even on your own, damn it.
By the way, if you’re wondering how people who work full-time in the Netherlands are supposed to go shopping for things, let me introduce you to “koopavond” (shop evening). Every Thursday evening, stores are open until 9pm.
Society makes that sacrifice. FOR ONE EVENING A WEEK. Not everyday! Are you listening, America?
And sure, while the American in me is annoyed at times (only sometimes!), I understand that it’s for the best.
But the whole “Americans work more” situation isn’t just born out of needing to make society more convenient. And while I’m not equipped to write a thesis on this topic, I do want to share my experiences of transitioning from the American work mentality to the Dutch way of life.
After moving to the Netherlands, I learned that there is more to the differences between time off in the Netherlands versus America than just getting more holiday days.
Although that IS a big difference.
In the US, you get two weeks off— that’s 10 days of vacation time. In the Netherlands, you START at 20! Most people I know have about 24-25 days off. A few weeks ago, I met someone who told me she got eight weeks of vacation time. My jaw had dropped so low that I was dumbfounded for a full minute.
You see what I mean?
But that’s not all. The most important thing I’ve learned from the Dutch is that when you’re off from work, YOU ARE OFF FROM WORK!
That should be a no-brainer, but it’s actually not that simply for an American like me.
You see, work was always on my mind back in the US. When I’m “done” working for the day, I still check my work email at home. Everyone in the US does it.
It is also not uncommon to check your work email when you’re on holiday. I wouldn’t even be surprised if some people are REQUIRED to check their email when they’re on holiday.
When I lived and worked in the US, about once a month, I would have things assigned to me on Friday that were due on Monday.
That shit does not fly in the Netherlands, and I love it. Forget about having to work on the weekends, the Dutch don’t normally even SEND emails during the weekend.
When I found out about that I was SO UPSET that I had been living my life the wrong way this whole time. But then I became extremely happy about my decision to move to the Netherlands. So it evens out.
Now, for the first time, I actually see a difference between the week and the weekend. And because of it, I am so much happier returning to work on Monday because I feel completely refreshed.
And I can actually do things without feeling guilty about them.
There is this weird sub-culture of working Americans who like to brag about how much they work. I get it, if you’re going to be working a lot, why not be good at it. But because people brag about pulling all-nighters and working on the weekend, it’s almost weird to say that you actually had… fun?
“Hey, how was your weekend?”
“Oh, it was great. I finally finished that proposal I had been working on. So good to have some time off from work to ACTUALLY get work done. What about you?”
“I went on a ski trip.”
A bit of an exaggeration there, but you get the picture!
Since I’ve moved to the Netherlands, I decided to start doing things the Dutch way. Which is not that hard because who doesn’t like time off?
I think it’s time Americans woke up and smelled the coffee.