One-way ticket to Rome

Yep, that’s right. Today I bought a one-way ticket to Rome. I’ve been thinking about going for some time, but something has kept me back; and it still haunts and threatens me.

No, I’m not talking about money. This is something intangible. I’m referring to my conditioning.

Those who know me well have heard me bring up this topic time and time again. They are either sick of it or are too conditioned themselves to acknowledge it. Most people respond with any critical comment of America with, “This is the greatest country in the world.”

I am by no means a black-and-white thinker. I understand that every situation, person and place has its good and bad. I am grateful to be an American and to enjoy the rights that I do; I love my job and my life. But none of that negates my point: Americans, in general, work too much.

And I’m not just BSing. Numerous objective studies consistently place the States far down the list of the best countries to work in. Here are the top 10, as reported by the Huffington Post: Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Portugal, France.

This was based on work-life balance (how much paid time off is afforded, how many hours worked a week, how much paid leave for parents, etc.)

It is a well-known fact that most countries in Europe mandate a 5-6 week PAID vacation. Of course, Americans get about 2 weeks if they are lucky. 21 days is considered phenomenal. The problem is that most workplaces discourage people from taking off more than a week at once, even if it is unpaid. Therefore, most people are not able to take extended vacations.

Everything is relative. Some people have it far worse and I know I am lucky. But to many, travel is not considered a self-indulgent luxury, but one of life’s greatest and most fulfilling, educational experiences. In fact, one of elderly people’s frequent greatest regrets is that they did not travel more when they were younger (another is wishing they had worked less).

Trips — and not of the weekend resort/Disneyland variety, although those are nice too — are often the highlights and hallmarks of a lifetime. Who wants to do the same thing, in the same place, every day for years upon years? Who doesn’t yearn to admire our planet’s great natural and manmade wonders, to immerse completely in the utter foreignness of other lands, to interface with our brothers and sisters across the seas?

This article, by the Atlantic, goes more in-depth on the subject. It details the top 23 countries to work, with the States dead last. I also encourage you to read the top comments, comments like this:

“Americans work longer days and get less vacation then our European counterparts. Did you know that more German made cars are sold than American made cars? Yet German auto workers make twice what American auto workers make and , get better benefits and more vacation? I’m sure thats all just stacked against the good ol USA.  Wake up, look around. Instead of believing the old BS learn about the reality you are living in.”

and

“I work in the Netherlands. I get 8 weeks paid holiday, a very reasonably priced health insurance plan and I work for a company that has flex hours. We have public transportation that is clean, efficient and plentiful. The Netherlands is an extremely integrated society. There are people from all walks of life living in Holland. And oddly enough, they have almost none of the social problems that the US has.

Are you kidding me? It’s a fantastic life and one I thoroughly love. I’m privileged to be able to work there and live there. And yes, all of these countries are in Europe. That should tell you something. ”

Just to give you some perspective. CNN also featured an article entitled “Why is America the no-vacation nation?” I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read this article. It discusses the fact that not only do Americans get barely any vacation opportunities, but they are CONDITIONED to think that they SHOULD NOT BE taking the vacation — my original premise. They (I) feel guilty; I should instead be working diligently, impressing my superiors, climbing the ladder, stacking the cash and saving for the future. Taking a vacation is impractical, self-indulgent, immature and reckless. These are the thoughts nagging me (while the other me is saying go enjoy life and have adventures while you still can).

I doubt that Europeans feel guilty while they are out enjoying life and not chained to their desks. And I’m rather perturbed by the commentary I get in response to these statements — one, people are under the impression that their current economic crisis is a direct result of working less hours. How does this make sense when the U.S. is the one that set off the global recession; when you observe that Europe prospered for years and that people who work hard and long in sweatshops, for example, have little to no effect on their country’s GDP, let alone their own personal well-being. Any cursory survey of world history will prove the correlation of more hours worked to national financial health to be a fallacy. The real culprits are corruption and mismanagement in the upper echelons.

The other response I often get is something along the lines of, “everyone in the world wants to come here; at least you can say what you want without getting shot.” There is truth to this. There are many opportunities in this land of plenty and people, for the most part, are allowed to voice their opinion. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t improve or learn anything from others.

Plus, taking vacations is supposed to improve health, relieve stress, and improve cognition and creativity — all things which contribute to a higher quality of productive output.

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