August 23, 2006

Where is the road to nowhere?

Alice has never considered herself an all-American girl, and news reports in the past few days confirm her assessment: Alice is positively un-American. She wouldn't want it any other way. The road less taken is hers, one where she can amble and wander and not worry about where she's going.

She is unlike, say, the average working U.S. American, who has, if lucky, two week's paid vacation annually. News reports say that less than half of those eligible choose to take even that paucity of time away from work. Even the TV news people sound shocked when reporting on this phenomenon.

After all, there's a reason they call it work. If it were meant to be fun and games, it would be called play.

Europeans average a minimum of five weeks paid vacation a year. You don't see the French hauling their asses into the office in the midst of a sweltering August. You don't see the Germans hunkered down at their desks 50 weeks a year. My friends who are the less-than-sybaritic Swiss think U.S. workers are fucking nuts. I quite agree.

Granted, Alice joined the ranks of the self-employed in part so she could close the office any damn time she pleased. So far this year, she has spent two weeks in the Caribbean, two weeks in Europe, and sojourned this summer for four to six days at a shot in three separate locations far from the concrete Wonderland she calls home.

This may be excessive, but honestly, Alice doesn't know how people with only two weeks a year to call their own find time even to pick up their dry cleaning. When Alice did toil in corporate America, she took a lunch hour. Sixty minutes in the middle of every work day, just like all the other employees.

She didn't even have a union to back her up. (Alice could be rented for union wages, only with time and a half for overtime, or compensatory time off.) Do either of these semi-sane offerings still exist? Not from what Alice has heard of late (obviously not around the water companies still have water coolers?)

Even when Alice was a child, her employer father gave his staff a week to 10 days for the Christmas/New Year's interval, when no one who has to be at work (and Alice has, previously) gets anything accomplished, plus two weeks of their own choosing, and all the major holidays.

Banks used to close at the drop of a hat. To this day, the post office seems to have more holidays than work days. Teachers get (and need) their breathing room. Corporate America, not so much. Next to not at all, it seems.

One commentator blamed the unpleasantness of travel -- whether the threat of terrorism or of the TSA was at fault was unclear -- and the high price of gasoline as reasons Americans don't take vacations. Well, stay home. Explore your house -- that can be an adventure in itself. See what your town has to offer. If all that's available is Wal-Mart and 500 channels with nothing on, perhaps it's time to reconsider your locale.

Get a hobby. Alice has watched more cooking, renovation, and athletic TV shows than any one woman should. "Reality" TV has competitions for everything from singing to hairdressing. Surely there is one contest that appeals. Teach the family to play poker. You had those children, maybe you should check up on their progress once in a while. If you're desperate, go jogging. Wander somewhere, anywhere.

Whatever you do, take your vacation. If you don't take it while you have it, you may lose your chance. Years ago, workers fought long and hard to get the right to take some time off. If you don't use that time, who will?

You won't have to worry about your job being outsourced to India where labor is cheaper. You will have become cheap labor yourself, and brought the third world (the lesser developed countries, as some would call them) home. And what an America that would be.

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Anonymous MetroDad said...

Couldn't agree more. Seems like most Americans invest all their time, energy and resources into working. I've always thought that life was FAR more important than work. Work was just something that helped pay for the life that you wanted to lead. When did work become an end unto itself?

P.S. Not sure that the French are a good example of keeping things in perspective. Although they love their vacnces, there's still something wrong with a country that has over 15% unemployment. But the Germans and Swiss definitely seem to have it all figured out.

10:20 AM  

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