“I need a vacation.” This may be one of the most common utterances in America. It was put to great comic effect in the second Terminator film. The good Terminator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) said it after a battering by the evil Terminator. Movie goers everywhere could identify with the sentiment.
But, did you know that the vacation is a recent invention? Through much of history, the idea of an extended break for travel and recreation was reserved for the upper classes. It’s a common idea now. And, in places like Europe, vacation is mandated by law. Not so in America. In an article for Boston Review, sociologist Claude Fischer puts it this way:
“Americans just don’t vacation like other people do. Western European laws require at least ten and usually more than twenty days. And it’s not just the slacker Mediterranean countries. The nose-to-the-grindstone Germans and Austrians require employers to grant at least twenty paid vacation days a year. In the United States, some of us don’t get any vacation at all. Most American workers do get paid vacations from their bosses, but only twelve days on average, much less than the state-guaranteed European minimum. And even when they get vacation time, Americans often don’t use it.”
Why are Americans so different? There are several explanations, as Fischer discusses in his essay. It could be the ethic of self-reliance, which, as we know from earlier discussions on OurValues.org, is one of the Top 10 core values. It could also be that Americans don’t want the kind of intrusive government that would legislate mandatory vacation time.
It’s also possible that Americans would love to have mandated vacations, but we can’t get them. Fischer argues that the American political system is set up in ways that favor the rich and powerful at the expense of the middle and working classes. This system makes it very difficult to even consider—much less pass—legislation that would require employers to give long paid vacations to their employees.
How much vacation time do you get?
Would you like to see mandated vacations as in Europe?
Or, should we just stop daydreaming … and get back to work?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.