The posting frequency over the past 10 days reinforces that I am on vacation. Whenever I go to a foreign country, I encounter (surprisingly!) a lot of people from countries other than the US. Casual vacation conversation, of the type you have with people you end up seated next to on a tour, is one of my favorite things.

Yesterday two European mother-and-daughter combos sat for lunch on a tour boat with us. Holland and Spain. Their English was workable and, combined with half-passable Spanish on my part, we covered the basics: Where else are you going on this trip, what have you enjoyed seeing, and so on. As is almost always the case, the Europeans were on trips of six or more weeks duration. When we said 13 days, they gave us a look I've gotten used to from a limited amount of foreign travel. It's the "God, you Americans are so sad" look. The older Dutch woman said, "That is nice, most Americans only do one week." By way of commending us, I think.

Mind you, taking a 13 day vacation is only possible because of extraordinary circumstances aligning. I work the academic schedule, which means that I have (as most people understand it) "summers off." I don't really, of course, but it is true that I do not have to show up to an office daily from mid-May until late August. Cathy has the good fortune to work at an enlightened (by American standards) workplace that gives the now-rare two full weeks of paid vacation annually. How sad is it to look at a person who gets TEN WHOLE DAYS each year that they don't have to work and think, golly, what a lucky person. She must be one of the Rockefellers or something.

We've all seen the charts a million times about how much more Americans work, how much less we earn per hour, how many fewer days of sick and personal leave we get, and how many more public holidays there are elsewhere. What's confusing is why nobody in the world of politics even mentions this as an issue. Like, it isn't even on the radar. It simply doesn't come up. Although the blowback from the hard right would be predictable, part of me thinks a candidate for higher office could get some real traction pushing "How about we double the number of Federal holidays and legally guarantee every full time employee 2 weeks of paid vacation to be pro-rated for part time employees."

The biggest obstacle would not be the obvious pushback from the Chamber of Commerce types but the fact that I really think there are a ton of people in the suburbs who are terrified by the prospect of having time off. They don't enjoy any aspect of their lives except shopping so I think there's a non-trivial part of our population who wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they didn't have their daily work routine to rely on. But hey, no one's saying you would be forced to take the vacation days. If you want to keep wasting away in a cubicle every single day, knock yourself out. The rest of us would like to attempt to enjoy some part of being alive while you hold down the fort.

41 thoughts on “NPF: THE SLOG”

  • Nice try, Ed, but we Americans do know how to live when faced with free time: TV / Norco / Burger King / SSI

  • With the exception of a few weeks of working with the census back in 2010, I have not had a JOB in the last 11 years. I didn't have ANY income for the period from July, 2006 to November 2011. I managed to get deep enough into credit card debt that I will never be free of giving someone $3-400 per month for perpetuity (sans the Nu-q-lar option). So, lot's of free time–no moolah for travel.

    I do not envy those who are able to do so, but I am bemused by the number of people who tell me how cool the Hardrock Cafe in (insert foreign city or country of your experience) and how shitty the McDonalds are in (insert foreign city or country of your experience).

    When I was in Germany, for almost 4 years on the U.S. "soft" occupation plan, the only thing I really longed for was a toilet with water in the bowl. Shitting on a shelf always bothered me.

    OTOH, why go anywhere if you can't go without missing mediocrity.

  • "The biggest obstacle would not be the obvious pushback from the Chamber of Commerce types but the fact that I really think there are a ton of people in the suburbs who are terrified by the prospect of having time off."

    Nah. I know plenty of 'burbanites; they like their time off just fine.

    The CoC would be in an uproar. Captialism would founder and morals and the puriteabaggist work ethic would go right into the shitter–one that always has water in it, though.

    But the thing that scares all of the National Socialist KKKonservatives the most? Allathem scary OTHERS having two weeks to wander the countryside. That scares the living shit out of them.

  • Great post, Ed. You really bring up two points. The first is the SOCIALISTIC angle, how the gummint dast not tell private enterprise how to treat its employees. That's not how we do things here! Freedom, etc. etc. and fuck what is left of the unions.

    The second raises the issue of what kind of human our culture has turned out. Maybe the Protestant work ethic started it, but generations of non-challenging commercial TV and music and other sources of induced passivity, public miseducation that has systematically ignored the arts and awareness of other cultures, and now an employment crisis that almost requires a workforce homed in on one basic purpose, and you've got people who don't know what to do with a weekend, let alone two weeks' leisure to discover something they don't already think they know. Amazing to me, this applies all up and down the economic ladder. I've met millionaires trying to enjoy the arts after decades of Making Money, and they haven't a clue. They can buy but they can't enjoy—hell, they can't see OR hear. And used to calling the shots, they can't take hints or instruction from anybody else. They don't understand how art can communicate intelligence, feeling, shared values, ask questions. It's beyond pathetic. But they're only the most noticeable because of their public posture, aka need for attention. Most of the rest of the population is in the same sorry soup.

  • Amateur socialist says:

    I have noticed a phenomenon among senior getting ahead types at my Fortune 500 employer: The tendency to not take earned vacation. I have known multiple people with 25-30 years of service who routinely only took half or less of their allotted 5-6 weeks of paid vacation. And when they do take time "off" they are usually on teleconferences, answering e-mails (at a lower pace but still hands on) etc.

    There's a fear component in these next-rung types: What if I am recognized as less than critical? What if my competitor for that next promotion takes less vacation?

    I evolved my own strategy of avoiding working for/with them. My manager has over 30 years in and takes every day of his vacation. Like me he's over the idea of getting promoted.

  • You know, this has been an issue with me for years. I have friends who don't take any vacation. When we were paid in cash for unused time at the end of the year, one guy, especially his wife, loved it. I remember her bitterly complaining about it one night when the company stopped the practice. Now, you just lose your unused time, so this guy takes a bunch of Fridays off, but he still works from home all day. I think it's either an Okie, or an aircraft thing. We also have a pattern where there are many people in the company who take all of December off to use up their time.
    I never have a problem taking vacation. And I have never had a request denied. Most of our trips are about two weeks, usually to CO for backpacking or climbing. I can easily spend a week in the backcountry. I have gotten comments more than once for taking time off from coworkers. We went to Europe for a month visiting my wife's relatives, and I got snide remarks about that. One guy told me you CAN'T take more than a week at a time. So, I think you're right that people don't know what to do with themselves when not at work. It's insane.
    We have also noticed that there are usually not many Americans around when we travel. It's usually foreigners who we talk to on trains and such. We met some firemen from Belgium who were hiking the same Pyrenees trail, and survived the same overnight storm as us, and they said Belgium doesn't give more than a week off like the US. Seems out of place compared to the rest of Europe. Anyone know why?
    I think there is some degree of pressure, either self inflicted or from an asshole boss that taking more than a week off proves you are not a dependable company boy and that you are not instrumental in putting out the daily fires that come up. Vacation cuts into your face time with the boss. It’s an ego thing I think. Then there's that attitude some bosses have where they say if they can get along without you for more than a week, then they don't need you at all. Fuck those guys. I'm at the point in my life where I'd walk out the door if I heard that.
    There’s a lot of things that politicians could be advocating that would be good for everyone. But they don’t have the balls to do it. We know Republicans don’t give a shit about anything but money and property, so don’t expect any help from them. I think it’s really shitty that most people don’t get any time off, and have jobs where, if they tried to take time, they’d get fired for it. This country is all about taking. This is what happens when unions are busted. I used to just disagree with republicans, now I fucking hate them.
    I like Mike the Mad Biologist’s campaign slogan he’s proposed. A line from the Terminator:
    Democrats 2018: Come with us if you want to live.

  • Can't help but think that most of what North Americans think of as "Innovation" seems to be some form of "Fuck The Help", one might think that they'll be right up a creek if any other sort of innovation is required of them.

  • "For someone who likes travel as much as I do, it is difficult for me to convey how much I hate talking to other travelers."
    "Casual vacation conversation, of the type you have with people you end up seated next to on a tour, is one of my favorite things."
    So says Ed, one of my favorite political bloggers.
    "Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." So said Walt Whitman.
    I got no problem with that either way.
    I do have a bit of a problem with the culture we live in where consumerism and opioid addiction are default vacation modes.
    "Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up with a thousand miles behind me . . ."
    Never mind.

  • 7 August 2017 – "For someone who likes travel as much as I do, it is difficult for me to convey how much I hate talking to other travelers."

    12 August 2017 – "Casual vacation conversation, of the type you have with people you end up seated next to on a tour, is one of my favorite things."

    What a change in just five days. That vacation must be agreeing with you. Enjoy it. (Either that or who are you and what have you done to Ed?)

    My father didn't take a lot of vacation time when I was a little kid. He was saving it up for when my sister and I were old enough to travel. We had a whole series of six to eight week vacations including two to Europe on five dollars a day, one to Mexico, and one to the American west. Then again, my mother and father were both AFSCME and New Deal capitalists.

    I always took my vacation time, usually in two or three week chunks. I was in a technical field which, at least back then, offered pretty good benefits, and one got more vacation time with seniority and promotions.

    The USA is in the same trap as the Soviet Union. Ideology trumps everything. The USA used to be noted for its lack of ideology. You got books like 'Without Marx, Without Jesus' back when the US was a rising empire. Then we found Jesus and our ideological answer to Marx, possibly Ayn Rand. It's been a while since we've been a rising empire.

  • A common argument centers on the claim that people who take fewer vacation days, work longer hours, and, typically multi-task, are so very much productive and deserving.

    Based upon my observations, and a few studies (Google), I think that that assertion is self-serving BS. Putting in endless hours and staying busy are not the same thing as being productive.

    I worked on a construction site where lunch was four hours long between 11 and 3 with the day ending at 7. Most of the men went home for dinner and a nap and came back rested and refreshed. Sometimes they did a little light shopping or took care of other business on the way home.

    Everyone noticed how much more productive we were. Particularly in the first two hours of each increment. Even the back two were good because everyone knew we didn't need to pace ourselves to get through a full eight hours without a serious break.

    I think the same effect shows up with vacation and sick days where you can't fully commit to work, we work at only 75% capacity, because you don't get enough time off to really recover. People come to work burnt out and sick and generally get an average days work done. Which tells me there is a whole lot of productive capacity being underutilized simply because workers exist in a gray area where they can't fully relax when off and so they are forced to pace themselves at work.

    Look around. Zombies are all around. Not quite living and not quite dead. We shamble to work and think of time off. We go home and worry about work.

  • Mark Ames has a great passage on this in _Going Postal_ in which he talks about all the Stakhanovites who are actually proud of never taking their vacation days. Personally, I work at a pretty civilized non-profit but I still only get two weeks. However, I always take them, because my boss is pretty religious about taking his.

  • It's because we started out as a slave nation and that has informed our view on work and workers ever since.

  • mark hamilton says:

    Finally retired at 62, as early as I could. I figured time/health was more important than any "extra" dollars I could make between 62 & 65. It was a WISE decision, had 5 years of good heath to enjoy until I didn't. We always took as much vacation as possible when we worked, lots of travel. HIGHLY recommended. Do it while you can, don't waste your "youth" on cubicle time. Here's a tip: nobody really cares and it does not make any difference. Been there, done that.

  • Welp, my experience (and I am now on permanent vacation) during 25 yrs of corporate employment (and it definitely got worse over the years) was, "how the fuck am I supposed to go on vacation when the goddamn company won't hire enough people to do the fucking job to begin with??"

    Speaking of which, while you're enjoying your cheaper-'n-water Czech beer, Ed, we're lookin' at nuclear war in NE Asia, and fucking Nazis in VA. Shit's getting pretty real; please enjoy your vacation and pay no attention to the news.

  • @Hondo: The Belgians you met were lying…tons of vacation here. Maybe only one week is required by law or something, but everyone expects (and gets) way more than that. I work here as a doctoral researcher (which means I am doing a PhD but I get paid a salary, because it's recognized as a *job* here) and get six weeks vacation a year. And, because I work in a university, there are two additional weeks of holiday when the university is closed (one week in summer, one at Christmas). It's crazy.

    The first year I was working here, we had to send in our summer vacation schedules to the person who coordinates the office calendar, so they could figure out when not to schedule important meetings and such. Like a good American, of course I wasn't taking any; I mean, I was already going to be forced to work from home during the mandated holiday week, right? My supervisor knocked at my office door a few days later, and said "hey, we noticed you haven't taken any of your vacation days. You should really use them."

  • Everyone's overlooking the working poor, whose jobs may not even include a vacation or sick leave. And then there's more and more situations like my aunt was in before she retired; she worked for a dentist's office, and when she started in the 1970s, the office was open 12 hours Monday-Friday, 6 hours on Saturday, plus 6 hours one Sunday a month. All the non-dentists worked 40 hours/week split up across all the hours they were open. Gradually over time various dentists left and the hours compressed, until as she was getting ready to retire, the office was only open 30 hours/week, Monday – Thursday. Time off? You get it when the office is closed, duh. You don't get PAID for it (they never got a paid day off, ever), and because everyone was now part-time, the last dentist didn't need to offer health care or any other type of benefit.

    I agree with what most people said (zombies, consumerism, fear of not being needed), but I have another angle, that I suspect some have overlooked; the gig economy. My own field (IT) has fallen into it, where the employees never know when they're going to be suddenly unemployed because their "gig" ended prematurely because of some CEO or beancounter's whim. This leads to people frantically trying to work every workable hour as a desperate attempt to stave off poverty.

    My field has also started something that may be prevalent in other fields; I just don't know. The company I joined awhile back uses a "no paid leave" policy to make their own bookkeeping easier. In short, you're paid for every hour you work. Not working? Just mark Off on your timesheet and all's cool. I'm only working for such a company because otherwise they're everything I wanted, and my spouse is working for a more conventional company that offers traditional leave.

    Because my job and my company both operate in our new "feast or famine" environment, people caught in it are loath to take time off.

  • Also, I agree entirely with Art; what I'm seeing around me is a bunch of exhausted people half-assing their way through the work day.

    >>People come to work burnt out and sick and generally get an average days work done. Which tells me there is a whole lot of productive capacity being underutilized simply because workers exist in a gray area where they can't fully relax when off and so they are forced to pace themselves at work. >>

  • I used to work for a very good friend. It strained the friendship, many times, over the course of 8 or 9 years (on again/off again for a total of about 12 years).

    Once, when I was taking two weeks off to go to NE, TX and CA he asked me to call in every few days. I told him that I would be happy to do so, if he wanted to offer me a day's pay on each of those days. I did not do any "calling in". Another time he said that I should schedule my appointments with a counsellor I was seeing so that they would fall on my half-day off, mid-week. I said that would not be happening as I was not going to be giving up that sliver of free time to make his scheduling easier. We're still friends, mainly because I'm such an agreeable fellow when people aren't being dicks.

  • Yeah. Underutilized productive capacity. Had a friend explain it to me as: "No pay raise for years and years means they get about 6 hours of work from me for the 8 hour day." He had the luxury of doing this in his paper pushing job but many do not.

  • @Dave; no (or miniscule) raises while the cost of living rises, being constantly asked to take over duties of departed coworkers because there's never enough money to replace someone who leaves, and the knowledge that even highly-skilled people can be fired at the boss's whim for any or no reason….what incentive is there to work hard? Bust your butt…get fired anyway. Taking a more leisurely approach to work means at least you're not utterly exhausted when they inevitably let you go so the boss can use your salary to buy a 7th vacation home.

    A couple of times in my working life, I've had bosses that were true leaders and actually understood the work their employees were performing for them.

  • As a Scandinavian it is incomprehensible why Americans put up with this shit. I run my own company and take out 8-10 weeks of vacation every year. Obviously I am lucky but most people take out 6 weeks and the requires you to do 5 weeks. We also have way more public holidays than you have on top of this.

    Even the finance people and the business lawyers take their 5-6 weeks of holiday. And the rest of us still think they are crazy because the rest of the year we work 40 hour weeks and they work 60.
    They same goes for healthcare. To a European the whole debate is beyond belief. Of course healthcare is a right. Who on earth can actually hold the opinion that everyone are entitled to the same healthcare? This, by the way are across the political spectrum.

  • At the end that should be: Who on earth can actually hold the opinion that everyone are NOT entitled to the same healthcare

  • Sigmund: 95 percent of Americans are totally unaware that there is an alternative. Ignorance has a lot of knock-on effects.

  • @Sigmund Aas; not arguing with you. I think people–all people, even those "working poor" jobs–should have paid vacation and I believe healthcare is a right.

    Here's more to blow your mind: American health care does *not* include vision, hearing, or dental. Many employer-paid health plans include dental coverage, and some include vision, but virtually zero of them provide hearing. My father is deaf because of the work he did for the US military–which does offer low-cost health insurance (I think it's $500 or $600/year) but even they do NOT including hearing aids, which can easily cost $6000 plus the cost of batteries to run them.

    Obviously, to be healthy one needs to be able to see clearly, hear clearly, and chew their food–but that's considered a ridiculous luxury in America. Additionally, a person suffering from tooth decay or rotten roots can die from it, but it's not considered important.

    Within the past couple of weeks, I read several articles about medical and dental charities that set up in various under-served places in the USA, and customers line up a day ahead of time in the hopes of getting a rotten tooth pulled or an infected wound treated.

  • @Major Kong; you know what they say about coming to resemble those you hate the most. The Cold War lasted decades.

  • @Hondo

    Belgian government employee here. 35 days of paid hollidays. Plus12 public hollidays (also paid). And our offices are closed between Christmas and New Year.

    Last May we went to Portugal for ten days. Now I am taking about 4 weeks with my son (school hollidays), doing chores around the house, etc… and in October we go to Sicilly for two weeks. Life is good in Socialist Europe :-)

  • I've got my own personal gripes to share about being cheated out of vacation time (not so much by the government but by slimy employers), but I really can't summon the energy to rant about it here. Still, FWIW, it was only a couple of months ago, back in June of this year, when I finally got to go on vacation for the first time in nearly a decade.

    But since we're talking about travel anyway, let me just ask this: Can anyone give me any advice for traveling between the USA and Canada? What I can expect at the border going either way?

  • Going to Canada:

    Make sure everyone has a current passport. Don't bring any firearms with you. As a matter of fact, I'd skip any weapons entirely. Don't try to bring more than a carton of cigarettes with you, or 750ml of hard alcohol. No illegal drugs. If you're driving, leave your radar detector at home or at least lock it in the trunk–using them is illegal in at least a couple provinces.

    The longest I've ever had to wait to clear Customs & Immigration in Canada was about twenty minutes, in a small airport.

    Coming back to the USA? Not that much different except the border agents are much more likely to be cranky and suspicious. And the lines are longer.

  • @Hank- Thanks for the tips, much appreciated. Don't worry about weapons, drugs, booze or radar detectors; I don't have any of that crap in the first place.
    And yes, I was primarily concerned about how the American agents would treat anyone coming back into the country. Just wondering if it's anything like what people have to go through at the airport.

  • ThisGuyAgain says:

    I think most Americans would welcome the time off — in theory. I'm a freelancer and take roughly 6 weeks of vacation every year (that's not important to the point I'm making; just wanted to brag), but I hear a lot of people bitch about only having 1 week of vacation time a year.

    The question is whether people would actually take it. Our culture has a fucked-up belief that taking a vacation makes you lazy. I have no idea how many times I took a week off at an old job and my co-workers said "Must be nice. I have too much work to take a vacation." Fuck you. You have time off, too. Instead of holding onto it and cashing it in when you go over 120 hours, put in a request for the time. You have seniority; your request will be near the top of the list.

  • X-RWU – it's not as bad as going through airport security. I've been to Canada a couple times in the past few years (flying, not driving) and there's no metal detectors, taking your shoes off, etc. except at airport security as per normal. The customs guys just look at your passport, ask about anything that might require you to pay duties/taxes on, and let you through. Driving is, I think, the same way 99% of the time – if you do something that raises suspicion they might search your whole car but that's very rare. There's really nothing to worry about.

  • I work for a rare beast: a non-profit in the defense industry that's been around since the late 50s, who provides 28 days of vacation that doesn't include sick time and parental leave both both mothers and fathers. Unused vacation carries over to a maximum of 35 days, and we can get those days in cash, if we really want to.

    I took off four weeks last year for pawternity leave (I got a puppy) and all of my managers up the line praised me for doing so.

    I guess what I'm saying is that it's possible to be a 2 billion dollar company and manage to balance work and life without going out of business.

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