21 February 2011

"This is NOT the United States"

At the present moment, I have what appears to be the development of my 4th sinus infection in the last 5 months. I am not sure if it is in someway connected with the shock of moving to a new place or perhaps the workings of my severely deviated septum, but either way, I am hoping to knock it out with sleep and orange juice before I have to subject my already confused immune system to another round of antibiotics.

I went to work today, feeling like someone had stuffed Play-Doh in my sinus cavities and driven a nail through my forehead. I sauntered in the door, stuffed my coat in the cabinet in the teachers' lounge, and made my way upstairs to my 5th grade classroom. When I walked in, I went straight to the window and opened it to get some fresh air. The room was a bit stuffy and I was already feeling hot. The teacher asked if I was ok, and I said that I felt sick, a sinus infection. Without missing a beat, without thinking for even a second, he stopped and said to me in a stern but still caring voice, "This is NOT the United States...really, it isn't."

Now, before anyone takes offense to that statement, you should know a little bit about this person. I work with him every day at school. We have become quite close at work, and while we do not hang out outside of school, I still consider him to be a good friend. He is always trying to offer me things, help me adjust to life here, and give me advice whenever I need it. But, the part of his background that is relevant to my story is that he spent the last 2 years teaching in a bilingual school in Austin, Texas before coming back to his home country of Spain. In other words, he has a bit more authority than your average Spaniard when making a comment about something not being the US.

He worked as a teacher in the American public school system, and anyone who knows anything about that system knows that he is lucky to have emerged from that experience with all of his teeth, arms, legs and brain cells still intact. He witnessed first hand the rigors of the American work ethic, and while he loved his experience in America, he could have done without the grind that is the American job. He knows that Americans only get 5-10 sick days and a 30 minute lunch. He is aware of the fact that most Americans spend their nights and weekends doing at least a few things that pertain to their jobs.

His statement stood out to me because he was exactly right. This is NOT the United States, and even in the US coming to work sick because you feel obligated should not be the norm. Americans (the responsible ones, at least) go to work when they are sick unless they are throwing up or doing other things better left untyped. We feel like we should be there no matter what, unless that "what" is out of our general control. In Spain, they feel the same way, but they also have a healthy respect for life. When you're sick, you stay home. On the weekends, you don't work. At night, after you leave work, you left work. Period.

Some people may look at the above paragraph and begin to make arguments about America's GDP, economic dominance, and overall lead in most things business. They would probably point to the fact that Americans are relentless and that fewer sick days, shorter lunches, and less time living and more time working are what has helped lead America to the forefront of the global picture in many ways. And, in many respects, I would tell them that they are exactly right. But, for what? Spain isn't "that far" behind America when it comes to standard of living. Our education systems are rated basically even, and I have no idea what Spain's GDP is, but I do know that whatever it is, in practice it translates into the same general feeling of everyday life that exists in the States.

The point to all of this ranting is to say that I wish that American culture felt the same way about life that other cultures do. The saying goes that "Americans live to work but [insert other culture here] people work to live", and it is sickeningly true. Almost everything that Americans do revolves around their job. Heck, most Americans even identify themselves more by what they do for a living than by who they are on the inside. When someone in the States tells you to go home and get better, it usually feels as thought they are really telling you to go home and figure something out so that you can be back at work as soon as possible or else. Here, it feels a bit different. When my friend and colleague said that this "[wasn't] the US," what he was really trying to say was that I should go home and sleep or go to the doctor and get better and come back to work when I'm ready. The funny (and ostensibly sad) thing is that his original statement actually did say all of those things.

In the end, I stayed at work the rest of the day, only coming home during my lunch break to take a nap. (When you have a 2.5 hr lunch break, you can do things like that.) I have done basically nothing all evening, and I hope that the sleep that I am about to get accompanied by the juice I've been drinking and the tylenol I've been taking will combine their powers to do something for my impending illness. Either way, we all know that I will be at work tomorrow, sick or not, because well, I'm American, and that's what Americans do even when we probably shouldn't.

1 comment:

  1. haha I loved this post. It's so true. Sadly, we continue to work even harder because of the economy... it's as if there's an underlying fear that there's someone else out there who would work harder if you begin to slack off...i.e. you're replaceable. ay, America.
    I hope you get to feelin' better, you workaholic. -stacey