Defending My Working Habits, and AMERICUH!

This article recently ran on the Huffington Post.  It’s written by acclaimed Serbian free-lance writer and Julia Roberts enthusiast (we’ll get to that) Tijana Milosevic (no relation).  It’s about the European perspective on American workaholism.  Although I usually hate to listen to interventions about my own workaholic tendencies (because I can stop working whenever I want to I swear) I thought this would be an interesting piece to show you and dissect, FJM style.

Coming from Serbia – a (3rd World) country of six million in Eastern Europe that once belonged to a larger, war-torn entity called socialist Yugoslavia — I wasn’t fully aware of the notion of “career anxiety” when I came to Washington D.C. for my MA degree.

That’s because “civil war anxiety” usually overshadows “career anxiety.”

Until one evening, that is, at the very onset of the school year. A colleague of mine who was just turning 27 raised his glass and voiced his fear: “Twenty-seven: no serious job and no stable career track.”

He forgot “soul crushing debt.” Life is hard for graduate and doctorate level students though. I mean how could they have foreseen going to school until they were almost thirty would have prevented them from starting a stable career track. It’s okay, you’ll be ballin’ eventually you sons of bitches.

I was 23 at the time and could not comprehend why anyone would be obliged to have a “career track,” let alone a stable one, especially at (what I saw as) the tender age of 27. In fact, I had never entertained the concept the way my American friends were referring to it.

Is there a typo in there? Doesn’t she mean the “old age of 27?” That’s like four years below Serbia’s average life expectancy. Actually this would be difficult to understand for a Serbian.  I once read that in Serbia everyone parties nightly at discotheques and gets their own pony. Also depending on their gender and sexual orientation each night they may make love to either a beautiful blonde woman wearing only a mink coat or a shirtless greased up muscle man with a curly mustache and a bearskin hat.

This of course is only until they turn 35, at which point they work at various shops and street side cafes  for fifteen years and retire to an Albanian beach house by the age of 50. I know Albania doesn’t sound amazing but this is still Serbia. Plus they don’t need anything too fancy, they’re a humble mountain people.

While many Americans move out of their homes when they’re 19 to hit college, the East- European model is quite different. Countries are smaller, and if there’s any migration it is directed typically towards the capital, so young people continue to live with their families through college.

That sucks.

Because of high unemployment rates and poor standard of living, they aren’t expected to become financially independent, and many depend on their parents well into their late twenties or even early thirties — without a sense of shame that such state of affairs entails in the US.

Serioulsy?!?!?!?! That’s AMAZING!!!! I take back everything I’ve ever said about Serbia. This place is the fucking Garden of Eden!!!! God for the past year I’ve wanted to rid myself of the shame of living at home. Now I can, by moving to Serbia and burying that shame under this glorious nation’s fertile soil. I’m moving to Serbia ASAP! With my parents!

These factors reduce the relevance of what Americans often describe as “the treadmill feel” — an almost compulsive desire for continuous promotions, financial gains, followed by a rise in social status, and an increasing social anxiety.

I for one have decided to help improve my social status by writing a blog. Mission accomplished. Also, my social anxiety doesn’t stem from the need for promotions or financial gains. I just feel incredibly inferior when I don’t have more money or nicer things than my friends…or strangers.

That and I’ve watched enough cable to assume everyone is a terrorist or a rapist. It’s a double edged sword. If you have nicer things than me I feel inferior. If I have nicer things than you it’s because you’re poor and probably going to blow up my train or have your way with me.

In societies that are similar to mine, the American model is looked down upon as “harsh capitalistic,” “individualistic” and above all “alienated,” as American parents are not perceived to provide enough financial and emotional support for their children.

I take it “My Super Sweet Sixteen” hasn’t yet been syndicated in Serbia.

In fact my family and friends had observed that I shouldn’t have chosen America, since I would probably feel better in Western Europe — where life is not as fast paced as in the US and capitalism still has a “human face.”

Oh I’m sorry, are the synthetic faces on our robot bank tellers not good enough for you?

For example, Americans still work nine full weeks (350 hours) longer than West Europeans do and paid vacation days across Western Europe are well above the US threshold. The French still have the 35 hour working week, while the hourly productivity is one of the highest in the world.

Yeah well the French military only had to work 35 hours a week too and we all saw how that worked out! BOOM! I’m just kidding they lost because they were pussies with bad tactics not because they were lazy.

On the other hand, in the US an increasing popularity of employment therapy suggests that a high-paying job still comes first, as job issues “have a huge mental health component,” and therapists emphasize the importance of “toxic co-workers and the ramifications of massive layoffs.”

Honestly she’s making some good points. Less vacation days and stressful work environments could very well lead us to a dangerous place. I wonder if she has any interesting hypotheticals for what that “place” may be.

Numerous writers have outlined the dangers of isolation and careerism in the American society. In her famous work “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” Hannah Arendt equates careerism with a lack of thinking that led to Holocaust: “what for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world. Genocide […] is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted.”

Oh…the Holocaust…?

In Serbia even young and busy corporate-minded career professionals do not have to mark their calendars to meet with close friends. One can always find the time for a spontaneous chat over coffee.

Haven’t you seen any Apple commercials? We do that shit via video chat now bitch!

Still, this laid back culture is now beginning to change with an increasing development of free market capitalism.

It’s as if your country is trying to become relevant and financially sustainable after a decade of devastating wars…

I still remember how strange it felt when I first came to DC and had to schedule coffees and lunches with people weeks or even months in advance. I found it odd that people rarely picked up the cell phone (which, granted, could be merely my personal experience, although many Americans confirmed it!) and would often leave the time and date of the call in their voicemails, which implied the other person might not get back to them in a while. I also came to discover that what Americans often referred to as “friends,” people from my region would prefer to call “acquaintances.” The term “friend” cannot be reserved for someone you meet once in a couple of months and do not know well enough to open up to.

This girl has a real problem with calendars and dates. Also I’m going to assume the second part of this paragraph is due to translation issues because otherwise it kind of sounds like I don’t have any friends…repress it, repress it, REPRESS IT! Social anxiety repressed.

Those experiences bring to mind a memorable line from from “Eat, Pray, Love,” a biographical story recently turned into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Julia Roberts: “You Americans know entertainment but you do not know how to enjoy yourselves.”

Aaaand you lost all credibility.

Everything you need to know about the errors of the American way of life is buried somewhere in Javier Bardem's chest hair

Roberts plays a successful thirty-something American who decides to embark on a soul-searching trip to Italy, India and Bali after realizing her job, husband and newly bought house are not what she really wanted from life. Perhaps that’s a superficial take on what many would describe as an equally superficial Californian trend to “do something spiritual,” but the above quote shows there’s something to the American career frenzy that remains unique to the United States. The opportunity cost for “dolce far niente” or “the joy of doing nothing,” runs high.

That was an entire paragraph using a Julia Roberts movie not named “Pretty Woman” to not make a point about how hookers are only people in fiction. There really is no other reason to reference a Julia Roberts movie.

Reflecting on this, I ran into an interesting take on “Eat Pray Love”

Wow you really banked on “Eat, Pray, Love” to close out this article. That’s like the Yankees calling down to the bullpen in the bottom of the 9th and using Joba Chamberlin’s half eaten calzone to finish the game instead of Mariano Rivera.

by a 23-year old blogger:

Okay you have my attention again.

“We are not sympathetic to spiritual personal crises anymore. If you want to have an emotional breakdown about something, you better have a logical, elaborate and secular reason; otherwise you will be dismissed as whiny, annoying and laughable.” I wonder if her comment has to do with the lack of experience or the possibility that the generation entering the work force will not have an adequate justification for its desire to escape the treadmill feel — amidst all the superficial takes on this complex topic.

Basically what I gather from all of this is that it was weird to someone from a third world country to move to a first world country and see people working a lot.  I’m not saying every first world country works at the pace we do, in fact they don’t. Still in the end this whole thing basically comes off as a college student translating her American culture shock into an article about how different is bad, whether or not it’s true.

Do we really work that much harder than the Germans or Japanese? We have fewer vacation days, but how much less stressful are those environments? I can’t imagine there’s a huge difference.  I see Milosevic’s points though.  I’m sure she’s used to working hard too. I know how difficult it must be for an Eastern European free-lance writer/Julia Roberts fanatic to find free time in her life.

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