I'm All About That Balance, 'Bout That Balance

Pop culture referance anyone?  I know there's some controversy over the song, but I can't lie, it's catchy as hell and can work it's way into quite an Ohrwurm.  Any who, back to our (ir)regularly scheduled post...The Germans take their work life balance very seriously, much to the chagrin of many Americans.  Depending on the company, they often work less hours than Americans, get better vacation time and really take relaxing seriously.  In fact, doctors can even prescribe time at a spa or time off from work.  I wonder if the fee for a spa would apply towards my deductible?

Sorry for the bad cell phone picture - Aaron took the camera to Spokane this week, but look at how empty the streets are - and this is the busiest one in downtown Mannheim!

The most prevalent weekly reminder of this balance occurs on Sundays.  Everything is closed on Sunday.  Everything.  Except for perhaps a few restaurants and bakeries with limited hours (limited as in they are open 8 - 11 AM).  This past weekend, I went to Church in the morning and wandered around the Mannheim city center, enjoying near desertedness of the streets.  Compared to Saturday, the place was a veritable ghost town.  On Saturday, the weekly market is open, the shops are all open, and people are everywhere.  Everywhere I say.  Sometimes it's hard to believe that many people live in or around Mannheim.  But on Sundays, hardly anyone is out.  Those who are can usually be seen at a cafe, having a cup of coffee, or getting an ice cream, which is a fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  I would know.

At first the whole "everything is closed on Sunday" thing was annoying.  I was used to doing my grocery shopping for the week on Sunday.  Saturday was usually reserved as the "fun" day on the weekend - the day to make plans, stay out late, have a good time - and Sunday was for catching up on all the things I didn't do the day before.  Living in Europe, that has changed (I didn't really have much of a choice).  Now, I've come to embrace this day of rest, a concept long gone in the US.  I don't feel too bad spending the day reading, watching a movie or pretty much doing nothing at all, except for cooking dinner.  I may do a load of laundry, but I need to be careful of when I put it in, I don't want to disrupt the quiet hours and get yelled at by my neighbors.  Have you ever been yelled at in German?  No?  It's terrifying.  Trust me.  We had an unfortunate run in with a train attendant a number of years ago that still haunts me to this day  >>shudder<<.

Their idea of work-life balance doesn't extend to just the weekends either.  It's not uncommon for people to get 4 - 6 weeks of vacation, right off the bat.  At BASF, Aaron and I both get 6 weeks per year.  This means that we can take a week long vacation every other month, or a two week vacation every 4 months.  Heck, we could even take an entire month off if we wanted to (and a lot of people do) and still have two more weeks of vacation left!  It's going to be really hard going back to the US and back to having far too little vacation.

The Germans also have an incredible paternity policy.  A mother is paid 100% of her salary for 14 weeks - and this starts as early as 6 weeks before the birth of her child.  She can then remain on semi-paid (65%) maternity leave for a year.  If she still wants to stay home, she can do so until the child turns 3, and still be guaranteed her job when she returns, although she is unpaid for this time.  Fathers get similar benefits too - 65% of pay for 12 months.  And this is only what is guaranteed by law.  Some employers have even more generous policies.  American employers should take note....

Growing up, my Dad always told me "Work to live, don't live to work."  In the US, this can be difficult due to limited vacation and the general attitude of "work work work."  In Germany, this appears to be their mantra, something they live by.  But, I'm going to stop here, at the risk of sounding like I'm bragging :)  

Anyone else having nice, relaxing weekends?  Do you strictly observe Sunday as a day of rest?

- Meghan -