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woman working in doorway 3

This is a Ukrainian woman working in the doorway of a cottage, in the open air museum called Peragova, in Kyiv. She’s probably a pensioner, and supplements her meager income by working at the museum and selling her crafts. The photo makes me think of work ethics and habits.

I grew up in the midwest in a small rural community in central Minnesota. My father often worked two jobs and built the house we lived in with his own two hands. He later supplemented his income by spending long hours out in the “shop” building beautiful cabinets for other people. It was work he loved, and he could make wood do almost anything. It just seemed to blossom into his vision of what it should be. But I know it took skill and experience to create the beautiful work he produced.

As a Midwestern American (and I know this is true of many Americans) I was brought up to work hard. To do your best, and give your employer an honest days work for an honest day’s pay. I was also taught there was no excuse for not working. And by his example, I learned that you didn’t take off sick days, unless you had NO other choice, and sometimes even let accrued vacation days disappear.

Years later, I moved to Europe; central Europe. (Trust me, I’ve been shown the map countless times, it’s central Europe, NOT Eastern Europe.) The work ethic here is different. (This is a blanket statement and like all blanket statements there are exceptions, these are simply my observations.)

1. You are NOT your job.

I have met people who do some of the most mundane and tedious of jobs: The lady that takes your money at the toilet, the waiter in a small cafe, a butcher, bus ticket collector, conductress on a train. And each of them didn’t see themselves as *that*. If they were striving for *more* it was more ways to make their off hours more interesting. For them, that’s where the real person was. In the off hours.

2. Vacations are to be taken seriously

The Europeans I know take their off time very seriously. They plan for it. They save for it. They have defined what it is they want from their off time. Some are very athletic and go off hiking, or skiing, or biking long trails. Others are very into history or architecture and plan their holidays based on these themes. And others simply find a place to tune out the world. They often vacation with groups, family and friend. And they don’t talk work! They talk thoughts, fashion, books, art, politics all those things that we have “politically corrected” from our conversations.

3.Do your job well, but remember, it isn’t your life, it’s the means with which you support yourself.

My European friends don’t take work home with them. (again, in general) They know the work will be there tomorrow and they will take another crack at it. They feel life is way too short, and you spend *enough* of it working. A mentor once told me the same thing, sort of. Told me I had to take time for me or there wouldn’t be any “me” to give to the students with whom I work.

4. Everyone needs regular holidays.

I just have to laugh as we North Americans complain about “there’s another holiday?!?!” And the happy answer is “yes!” And they gather in the parks and the squares and celebrate what ever day it is. Usually with chocolate, flowers and vodka. A tour guide I hired in Poland told me “You Americans work too hard. You never see what’s around you.”

He may have had a point.

What do you think? What’s your work ethic? Your work habit?