As someone who grew up in Europe, then moved to America, I'd say the difference between European and American attitude toward work is that Europeans work to live, while Americans live to work.

This difference can be seen, among other things, in the fact that in European countries it is not uncommon to get 4-6 weeks of vacation per year, while in America you get one week, or if you are lucky two. Then again, many Americans never find the time to take the vacation.

Which attitude do I prefer? The European one. I go to work to make enough money to live, so I can do the things I want to do, not the things someone else decides I should be doing.

The situation is changing, though. You can hear such slogans as Don't work hard, work smart even in America these days.

And, of course, there is the common saying friends tell friends: Don't work too hard! By the way, I have never heard that one in Europe, probably because it would have been totally unnecessary.

Incidentally, back when I was a psychology student at Komensky University in Bratislava, they told us about some research about companies that had their employees work six days a week and companies that had their employees work five days a week. They found out both had the same amount of productivity. It would appear that the human mind simply "knows" this is how much I produce in a week. If it is given five days, it produces it in five days. If it is given six days, it produces the same amount in six days.

My friend Reed just returned from France for 6 months and he had similar sentiments. The French work week is 35 hours max and there, meals and down time were socially thriving, whereas in America both are stripped of enjoyment so as to not distract us from our goal of more work.

He said that contrary to stereotypes, the French were not fat (not like they are in New Orleans; we had once been labeld the fourth fattest city in the US), lazy, or unproductive. We trade comfort for modernity. Sure, we have newer, bigger cars, wider streets, bigger cities, more options. For these we have traded the very thing that makes life worth living: spare time. Or worse, we have recycled spare time into less stressful but still productive time.

This one speaker at Cornerstone asked us to write down our time pressures, all the things that demand our time. How much did we have that was not spoken for? When we who have families spend time with our kids, how much of it is at some level of consumption, either by the media (movies, TV, music) or accumulation (food, shopping, entertainment like amusement parks and arcades)? Do we ever get together to celebrate anything that is not already an official holiday? Do we always need a reason to take time off for ourselves, to say no to committments? Do we really need two cars, 3 spare bedrooms, or 20 pairs of jeans?

America seems to have been founded on the protestant work ethic, then cranked it up to even higher levels. You're judged on your success with work over everything else. We lavish attention and money on the successes - the CEO, the doctor, the athlete, the movie star. But only the ones that do glamourous things. The scientist is lucky to get her picture in a newspaper article tucked back on page 5. The teacher has to rely on thanks from students and parents.

Education is great... as long as it's in preparation for a life of work. Education for it's own sake doesn't seem to be regarded as having value. And you only should be as smart as you need to be, anything more, and you're an outcast.

I worry that if we ever have the means to change things so that work is no longer necessary to live, that we can leave the realm of scarcity behind, that people will fight it. They're so dependent on working, on providing their own living, that they wouldn't accept a place where it wasn't necessary. That this work ethic would mean anyone not working would be a freeloader, a waste.

I would love a place where the only work I do is the stuff I want to do, when I want to do it. I must be the exception.

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