Switzerland Work-Life vs American
July 23, 2015 1:16 PM   Subscribe

 
It is amazing what you can accomplish in a country run by grown-ups. This will never, ever, under any circumstances happen in the United States.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:25 PM on July 23, 2015 [49 favorites]


It's all very nice reading how much better they have it elsewhere, I suppose.

But instead of getting mad as I once might have, now I just get sad and tired. It's not like it's easy to just pick up and move to Switzerland or where ever. Getting Ok'd for a job is hard enough here, in the states, let alone if you're trying to get sponsored in another country. So on some level it feels like articles like these just exist to make us feel bad.

I make an OK living; it's pretty middle class by big-city Chicago standards. I doubt I will ever leave my job, even though I could probably make 15k more a year if I hopped around. Why? Because I get 20 paid vacation days a year, plus 8 sick days, plus 2 personal days. Next year I jump to 25 paid vacation days.

I know if I left, I will most likely never again find a job that is so generous with vacation.
posted by Windigo at 1:25 PM on July 23, 2015 [45 favorites]


I'm working in an NGO now that is technically based in New York, but the CEO is English and there's a lot of international staff, so the vacation time here is actually sane. Plus, I work in HR.

My boss is also Swiss, and we actually got to talking about what I might do with my vacation plans when we were going over my entry interview; I was hired in early May, and I'd already have ten days I could have to use before the end of September. BAM. I was so surprised I blurted out something about how I didn't know what I was going to do with them because "I've been a temp and we only get one week off for the whole year so I wasn't expecting this."

My boss lapsed into French with her reaction, so I'm not sure precisely what she said but I'm pretty sure what she said wasn't complimentary to the US.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:28 PM on July 23, 2015 [33 favorites]


In all seriousness, I'm an American and have resigned myself to living in a country run by scolds, ghouls, and moral simpletons. As Windigo says, it really chisels away at your soul.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:32 PM on July 23, 2015 [122 favorites]


They really don't want to let this get out to the American public.

In fact I seem to recall a proposal advanced by one of the occupants of the clown car that contains the best hopes of the Republican party that the key to increasing American productivity to 4% per year is for those of us in the trenches to work more and harder.
posted by mygoditsbob at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


"a sizable portion of guilt if actually used"

Perhaps you don't have your work-work balance adjusted just right?
posted by fairmettle at 1:39 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


But we KNOW. We GET it. We know every other country is a magical progressive land of vacation and education and long lunches and free healthcare and public transit and everyone gets a unicorn AND a pegasus upon birth. I have done a lot of international travel and have a large number of friends living in Europe, so have witnessed their lifestyles and have had them stare aghast upon hearing about mine.

It's not some sort of secret kept from the American public. We are all very aware. But we're trapped. There's no way this is going to change for us. So the most any number of us can do is just shrug and get back to work, because yeah, people have walked on the moon and we've as much a chance of doing that as living a Swiss lifestyle.
posted by Windigo at 1:40 PM on July 23, 2015 [56 favorites]


I couldn't finish reading this. I just despair.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well, that was certainly depressing to this US citizen. But not surprising; that Puritan work ethic really is a curse.
posted by TedW at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Harry Lime: Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.

- via The Third Man
posted by fairmettle at 1:43 PM on July 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair

posted by aramaic at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have been on my job for a year. During that year I have earned 20 personal days, which can be allocated between sick days, vacation days, and the occasional day off for whatever reason. I am required to take two weeks of vacation at one time once per year. This is a job in the financial industry, where the theory is that if you have a scam going it will fall apart during your two week absence.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2015 [31 favorites]


I would love to live in Switzerland, but they don't exactly make it easy to immigrate. (Hmm.)
posted by entropicamericana at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I work for a 501(c)(3) based in the U.S., and many of my colleagues are in Germany and the UK. I'm amazed at how often these colleagues are able to take personal time off, in addition to the profoundly different way holidays are managed. By amazed, of course I mean that I am envious.

I wonder often what it would take in the U.S., what kind of a popular movement, to build the inertia for a new labor revision. People seem so constantly defeated (echoing some of the comments above). Does anyone have ideas? Anyone in the field of organization and labor care to add two cents here? Articles like these are well and good, but shy on suggestions on next steps in a nation with a Congress that is possibly clinically deranged and a system pf public trust that is so damaged and weakened by gerrymandering and the like that it's going to take ages to repair.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I've only ever worked in America, and I don't want to speak for all Americans, but in addition to guilt at using personal time off, I often feel a deep, painful fear that the company that employs me will decide it can get along just fine without me if I stay away on vacation (or sick!) time too long and have a pink slip waiting for me when I get back.

So I answer emails and occasionally join teleconferences when I'm on vacation or sick. And as others I have mentioned, I know it should be much, much better than this, but I feel trapped and powerless.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:46 PM on July 23, 2015 [44 favorites]


When my employer was taken over by a US-based Mega-corp there were rumours they wanted to align their newly acquired European operation with American working practices.

Fine we said, as long as they to do it in France first.

and we get to watch.
posted by fullerine at 1:46 PM on July 23, 2015 [37 favorites]


Oh, and even though I am amongst the luckiest Americans with my 20 days of paid vacation a year, it's not like I can get away with using more than 5 of them at a time. God forbid. The idea of taking a month off or even two weeks off, all at once? Ha! Not happening.
posted by Windigo at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Of course, the answer to the Harry Lime quote is "the most feared militia force in Europe, one that was sometimes banned by international treaties."

Actually, I don't know if that makes it any better.

How did Europe end up with the vacation schedules that show up there? In the US, we have unions reminding us that they are the people who brought you the weekend.
posted by Hactar at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was recently hired at a new job, and they told me my vacation time. Since I wanted to stay employed I stifled my laughter. Did this person really think I would take more than a weekend off? In America? Men have been shot for less.
posted by East14thTaco at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would love to live in Switzerland, but they don't exactly make it easy to immigrate. (Hmm.)

Yes. Well, unless you're really rich. Then you just show up and buy a house and everything is cool.

I have colleagues who have relocated to Switzerland from the US and come back a couple years later because they found Switzerland a difficult country to live in. As quaint as it is for stores to never be open, it can be inconvenient. The Swiss, while very polite, are not renowned for being warm and welcoming. It's an expensive country to live in.

Which is not to dismiss the really great things the author outlines. It just that there are tradeoffs. Some people are happy living in a beach hut in Thailand. Some like the Swiss model. The US model (such as it is) has its own pros and cons.
posted by GuyZero at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


I think a lot of people are trapped, unaware of how good things could be if we let go of hard work as the #1 priority. Watchers of Fox News, like my grandmother, believe this is the Greatest Country On Earth and also the Most Free, because they tell lies about the UN as a "new world order" and about other nations' healthcare systems as being so inefficient you'd wait in line for months and death panels, and no "innovation" without a profit incentive, etc. etc.

If it's not a developing nation without clean water and electricity, it's a communist dystopia. The United States is the only place on earth where a hard-working person can live with dignity and freedom. People like my grandmother really do believe, in their hearts, that we have it great here. They are bewildered and hurt when anyone questions it. And they absolutely will not vote for anyone who questions it or challenges the profits-over-people model.
posted by witchen at 1:51 PM on July 23, 2015 [68 favorites]


I have colleagues who have relocated to Switzerland from the US and come back a couple years later because they found Switzerland a difficult country to live in. ... It's an expensive country to live in.

Yes, the rent in the U.S. is not too damn high.

I've only ever been to Geneva, and it did seem expensive, but I have also lived in DC, LA and SF for the last fifteen years and have yet to see the affordable side of the rural life I abandoned.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:51 PM on July 23, 2015


My boss lapsed into French with her reaction, so I'm not sure precisely what she said but I'm pretty sure what she said wasn't complimentary to the US.

My French isn't great, but here's what I get: "Sacre Bleu! We could have been paying these Americans one-third the holiday time we've been paying them and they'd have been just a happy. Maybe happier!"
posted by notyou at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think a lot of culture change would have to happen before most people supported something like this in the US. I wish that weren't true. But it seems like every company I hear about these days is doing a job on a shoestring staff cut to the bone -- it's not worth it to the company to hire more people because someone wants to go on vacation for 2 weeks, even if the place would fall down without that person, and possibly because it would. People worry about training other people because they think they'll be fired if the new person does a decent enough job. Over the past six months, 2/3 people in my best friend's department have quit, and the company refused to hire anyone -- so she was doing the work of 3 people -- until she said she was quitting too. Then they said they'd consider it if she stayed.

I used to work for an American company that was owned by a German company and we didn't get any of their vacation benefits. We used to marvel at the people taking their 6 week vacations in the summer, just sending out a nice email saying that Dietrich will be handling stuff until they got back. There was actually some resentment or envy in my company over this. The max number of vacation days you could get at this company was 4 weeks, and you had to be there 25 years to get that benefit. I worked there part-time for six years and never got a day of paid time off. It was a great job, except for that.
posted by possibilityleft at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's the difference between knowing it as a remote abstraction and your first taste of what certain freedoms are like.
posted by polymodus at 1:54 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Articles like this make me too depressed. I think about my own job, and my own extremely judgmental higher ups who buy right into the "team players understand that this job goes beyond 9-6" bullshit. Never mind that no one bothers to question when it stopped being 9-5, now 9-6 isn't enough - leave before 7 and you get the side-eye. So basically we are expected to get home at 7:30, 8:00pm and be in bed by, what, 11pm, so we can get a full eight hours of sleep in. A whopping three precious hours of free time a night. On top of this, I was sent an invective email from a manager a few months back for "not bringing my laptop home on weekends in case of emergencies" - Was I unclear on our departmental policy? I am told that if I want to advance, I need to be prepared to "step up" and sacrifice even more free time.

And people ask me why I don't want a family.
posted by windbox at 1:55 PM on July 23, 2015 [48 favorites]


It's not some sort of secret kept from the American public. We are all very aware.

I wish that were the case but I just don't think a tremendous swath of the voting public actually is. A college-educated friend of a friend had to deliver her baby in Germany during a short trip there with her husband on business and she wrote back to her friends at home telling them not to worry, she was amazed that German hospitals were "like something you'd see in America!" She'd expected them to be "dirtier".

"America is free and rich, everywhere else is enslaved and poor" runs really deep.

on preview: what witchen said
posted by glhaynes at 1:55 PM on July 23, 2015 [50 favorites]


I wonder often what it would take in the U.S., what kind of a popular movement, to build the inertia for a new labor revision. People seem so constantly defeated (echoing some of the comments above). Does anyone have ideas? Anyone in the field of organization and labor care to add two cents here?

Just a thought: I think a better education about what the labor movement of the early 1900's was about would go a long way. That is a part of history that gets whitewashed out of alllll the history textbooks, and probably has been ever since the 1940's and 1950's when anything that sounded remotely like Communism or Socialism was turned into a sort of boogeyman.

And when people don't hear about the Pullman Workers or Sacco and Vanzetti or the IWW or the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster or etc., etc., etc., they not only think that there's nothing they can do, they get trained to think that there's something wrong with even wanting to change the status quo.

It starts in the schools. Teach labor history and you have a big group of people more likely to want to change labor policy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on July 23, 2015 [58 favorites]


The argument is that we went to the moon and Switzerland didn't.

Which is bullshit. Fuck Cadillac and fuck the mentality that the rat race is all there is, when most in the rat race will have nothing but Velveeta instead of Camembert.

That ad did more to destroy any interest I had in that marque than their terrible fuel efficiency.
posted by qcubed at 1:59 PM on July 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


.But we KNOW. We GET it. We know... I have done a lot of international travel and have a large number of friends living in Europe

I don't think all Americans actually have your knowledge of the rest of the world.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:59 PM on July 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


And yet American work culture is nothing compared to East Asian work culture.

It does seem like countries fall on a spectrum in terms of how much time you are expected to devote to your job. I wonder if any historians have theorized about this -- does it just have to do with strong labor movements? Other cultural factors? Random chance?
posted by vogon_poet at 2:02 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


It starts in the schools.

Approximately ten seconds later three things happen:
1) public schools are mandated to teach property owner rights for a full semester, including required essays on why property rights in the US are superior to those found elsewhere, and why property owner rights superseded those of non-owners.

2) public funds are given en masse to private non-accredited school systems as long as they promise to produce children of "good moral character" and make them wear tiny american flags every day.

3) any discussion of labor is legally mandated to be framed in terms of how thankful workers are to receive jobs from their superiors.
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on July 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm on "staycation" this week and it's caused me to feel guilty both about not working and about wasting PTO days and not actually going anywhere.
posted by octothorpe at 2:04 PM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I've only ever worked in America, and I don't want to speak for all Americans, but in addition to guilt at using personal time off, I often feel a deep, painful fear that the company that employs me will decide it can get along just fine without me if I stay away on vacation (or sick!) time too long and have a pink slip waiting for me when I get back.

God yes - I'm taking five days off next month for a vacation and feeling nothing but horrified. Not just whether they can get along without me, but also what mistakes will get uncovered, how many emails will pile up, how much people are going to bother my managers who will be covering for me about "emergencies". I can't even go out to lunch without coming back to some giant pile of missed emails, one of which will contain a "ASAP URGENT PLEASE INVESTIGATE THIS MAJOR ISSUE THAT MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN CAUSED BY SOMETHING YOU DID" message. So it's going to take some powerful cognitive behavioral skills to just not think about my work inbox while I'm "relaxing" on the beach.

Do Swiss people even deal with this "omg my inbox" dynamic? God damn I need a new job and/or country.
posted by windbox at 2:07 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Aramaic -

That only happens if people don't pay attention to who's on your local school boards.

Seriously - you know all the conservative politicians that are getting all the votes now, and skewing things now? You know how they all got started? They started with cheeseball positions as local dog catcher and assistant superintendent to the school board and shit like that; the jobs that nobody runs for, and nobody pays attention to their record. They deliberately started gunning for those jobs so they could use them as stepping stones to the next step up, and they used "was city dog-catcher for 5 years" as an "in" because they knew people would look at that and say "okay, they have experience".

They started doing that stuff back in the 1980's. It's high time we start turning the tables.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:07 PM on July 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


American Exceptionalism and nationalism are hard to overcome. We're the greatest country in the world, we're told. (Just don't look too close at the numbers, some of the ones we're #1 for are really ones we probably don't want to be.)

It doesn't help, of course, that the number of media companies keep dwindling and reducing the number of viewpoints available, or that the gap between rich and poor has reached levels not seen since the Gilded Age. Add in a lot of people thinking they're just a temporarily-embarrassed millionaire, and they're happy to vote against their own best interests because soon they will be rich and powerful and won't it be great when their ship comes in. A pre-emptive "Fuck you, got mine."

Not sure how we arrived at the insight that if you're poor/sick/living in a horrible situation it was because you did something wrong and you deserve it, certainly seems at odds for what I am constantly told is a Christian nation.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:08 PM on July 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


And yet American work culture is nothing compared to East Asian work culture.

Yeah -- its interesting to me how in Japan everyone is "entitled" to 2 weeks vacation (by law), but nobody takes it. I know many more Americans who use their vacation than Japanese. Japan actually considered a law to make it mandatory to take vacation (to prevent karoshi / death by overwork) but I can't find any information as to whether it actually passed or not.

America is varied --- some people get several weeks vacation and use it, and others get no vacation at all. I get almost as much as Europeans, and take it all, and like Windigo this is a huge factor in staying with my employer. I'd trade even more money for more vacation days if I could.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:08 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm on "staycation" this week and it's caused me to feel guilty both about not working and about wasting PTO days and not actually going anywhere.

I love a good staycation. Most of my vacation use ends up being just to sit at home and work on projects I want to work on for myself. Travelling stresses me out. Though I do feel like a lot of people I've worked with over the years seem to think that if you are spending more than you'd make on plane tickets, hotels, gas and amusement park admission fees, it isn't a justifiable vacation.
posted by kpraslowicz at 2:13 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I feel like my job is pretty much a dead end in terms of room for advancement, but I stick around because I love my company's work-life balance. I get 30 days of paid time off, including sick days, which I didn't actually think was that much but according to the comments here it is? And my boss doesn't give a shit if I take off for two weeks at a time. I've been spoiled and all this talk over feeling guilt about taking time off is foreign to me.

The flipside is that my employer is actually denigrated by some of the job-seekers in this particular field, because we bill ourselves as a ~lifestyle company that doesn't want to kill you with work, and that won't do for the more ambitious people. And, well, my position is a dead-end job and there will come a time when even a generous vacation policy won't be enough. But that time is not now.
posted by imnotasquirrel at 2:14 PM on July 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm lucky enough to belong to a union and as a result I get four (five, in a few years) weeks of paid vacation, plus additional time off for medical appointments, family emergencies, etc...but when I say "lucky" what I mean is that fairly shortly after I entered the workforce I realized that landing a union job was probably my best shot at attaining a work-life balance that I'd be satisfied with and altered my job search accordingly. I don't make as much money as many of my friends, but I've got more free time than most of them and don't have to worry about anyone giving me side-eye for going on vacation or any shit like that.

My father belonged to a private-sector union for almost his entire working life and was always very vocal about how it benefited him and the rest of our family.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:14 PM on July 23, 2015 [22 favorites]


Well, that was certainly depressing to this US citizen. But not surprising; that Puritan work ethic really is a curse.

Definitely is. I think the core understated attribute of America is anxiety, prevalent everywhere and expressed in so many different ways.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:18 PM on July 23, 2015 [22 favorites]


Back when I worked for an international NGO, I got 20 days a year, even more than that in sick time allowance, and I got comp time too for the weekends spent out of my home country. It was so much that I sometimes struggled to take it, and at one point had my boss tell me I better figure out how to take a week off within the next 4 weeks or I'd lose it. I went to China to start dating mrs. allkindsoftime. I didn't think about work once that week, and I came back refreshed and recharged.

Now that I'm back in American corporate, let me tell you what happened the last time I tried to take a vacation.

It was Christmas Eve. Christmas fucking Eve, just like in the movie Elf. You know, where the dad workaholic got called in by his asshole boss on Christmas Eve, and had his job security threatened for wanting to be with his kid instead? That Christmas Eve.

I was working remote, taking my calls in the car and staying online via the phone's wifi connection, while the Mrs. and a friend traveling with us up to Seattle from SF split the driving. It was the first day since starting on this client 5 months previously that I hadn't spent a full day on-site. Mind you a full day for me typically meant 7am-6pm, sometimes less, sometimes more. But the 24th was a working day for us so in order to get to see the family by midnight of Christmas eve, we drove that day and I was working remote.

And then I got a call from my boss. Turns out my client lead had just given her a 40 minute earful about a financial forecast for my team that the finance team was supposed to get done with the inputs I had already given them, back when the client had asked me to. Turns out it wasn't done. So instead of attacking the finance team, the client turned on me and lit my boss up like a Christmas tree that I hadn't gotten it done.

So my boss proceeded to light me up like I'm some kind of idiot. She got even angrier when I pointed out that it was never on our statement of work or something we even talked about doing, which is why I hadn't planned on doing it. And then she gave me a deadline of the 30th to get it done by and review with her.

Which meant I took off Christmas Day, because they have to give us that day by law or something, worked remote (for the second time ever only!) the day after Christmas, so the Mrs. could have an extra day with the family, then that weekend we drove all the fucking way back to SF so that I could be in the office the Monday after Christmas to spend that week working instead of skiing with friends and family.

And I got it done and saved the day and never got so much as a thank you for it.

That's what being back in America is like. Next week I'm going on my first week off in a year. Try fucking calling me.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:19 PM on July 23, 2015 [43 favorites]


This is all very foreign to me, so to speak, because most of my adult life I've worked in retail, and when I wasn't doing that I was a private contractor. I've literally never had paid vacation in my entire life. I was talking with my sister and some friends about how her vacation time works, and I was really embarrassed because apparently it was all pretty standard and I was talking about it like some weird, unique thing.

That said, at least as a private contractor I could do it from home. But to make ends meet I'd be on multiple contracts at once, I'd get assignments all the time, and I'd end up working on the weekend. Still better than retail, though - I guess some stores close on holidays, but mine sure didn't. At least they had the decency to close early on Thanksgiving. We all know how awful it is for people who are forced to work Thanksgiving night as part of the expanding Black Friday event.

I know these kinds of jobs aren't considered careers like the other jobs people are talking about here, but I know they're a long-term reality for a huge number of people. I wonder what it's like to work retail in a place like Switzerland, and how many of the perks carry over to jobs like the ones I've held. God forbid you end up working two jobs at once, or three.
posted by teponaztli at 2:19 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Whoops, meant to post these as part of my last comment:

The Cult Of Work
On The Phenomenon Of Bullshit Jobs

From the latter:

"If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the – universally reviled – unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days."
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:20 PM on July 23, 2015 [34 favorites]


The power relationship with one's employer is the important thing here in America, since there are no legal guarantees for vacation.

So if you're in a union, like Card Cheat, you might get a good vacation policy. Or if you're in a very high demand occupation (I'm a software engineer), you might get a good vacation policy because companies use it as a recruiting tool.

But everyone else is at the mercy of their employer, and most American employers are not known for their kindness.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:22 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Which is bullshit. Fuck Cadillac and fuck the mentality that the rat race is all there is, when most in the rat race will have nothing but Velveeta instead of Camembert.

In Canada, the Senate is under fire for startling expense claims (around $250,000 per year in one case). Senator Nancy Ruth complained about the pecksniffian thoroughness of the auditors:
“There are a couple of times when my assistant put in for a breakfast when I was on a plane, and they say I should have not claimed because I should have eaten that breakfast,” she said. “Those breakfasts are pretty awful. If you want ice-cold Camembert with broken crackers, have it.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:22 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


There is something about American work culture that is inherently adversarial. Money and benefits spent on employees are regarded as things that come at the expense of not just shareholders and managers, but things that come at the expense of other people in general.

Let's say it came out that secretaries who worked for Kohl's took an hour for lunch and got 4 weeks of vacation. Every single restaurant owner or dentist would be raging with indignation about how unfair this was, given how hard they work.

American workers receive compensation in a form of bread & circuses instead of public benefits: yes, you might not get much paid vacation, but compared to your Swiss or French counterparts, you will have a much larger television, a more powerful car, a bigger house, and will be able to afford to go out to dinner more often, because it is less expensive.
posted by deanc at 2:22 PM on July 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


I've felt sometimes that a dynamic that is at play in these situations is that smaller countries with more homogenous populations have a big head start at solving these vexing societal problems. It makes me despair a bit for America because I can't imagine how we'd ever pull together the political will to make big changes here.

It's also of course explained by the dynamic that very few Americans control the vast majority of the wealth, but I can't help but wonder how these battles might be easier to fight when the scale is smaller and there is more of a sense of shared culture. I don't want a more homogeneous, less populated America, but I do want universal healthcare and ample leave from work, and I can't really see that we'll ever get it.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:23 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is all very foreign to me, so to speak, because most of my adult life I've worked in retail, and when I wasn't doing that I was a private contractor. I've literally never had paid vacation in my entire life.

Huh.

Even when I worked part time as a fry cook during the summer holidays when I was a student I was entitled to vacation time (and payment for such).

The tendency to gloat as an enlightened European with decentish holiday and working conditions is great, but that would be a dick move.

And besides which, looking at what the UK is doing to itself, the US work culture is very much being exported here and a country like Switzerland is a bit of an outlier.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:24 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


HOLY SHIT GO BACK TO SWITZERLAND ARE YOU INSANE
posted by chococat at 2:24 PM on July 23, 2015 [31 favorites]


It is absurd to compare the United States to Switzerland on just about any metric. You can twist the stats any way you like and you're not getting anywhere at all.

The Swiss population is about 8 million people.
That's about the same size as New York City.
And yet New York City -- alone -- has an economy more than three times the size of Switzerland's.

Switzerland ranks No. 1 on the World Happiness Index.

The United States ranks No. 15. The difference in score is a mere 6 percent.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:29 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


> American workers receive compensation in a form of bread & circuses instead of public benefits: yes, you might not get much paid vacation, but compared to your Swiss or French counterparts, you will have a much larger television, a more powerful car, a bigger house, and will be able to afford to go out to dinner more often, because it is less expensive.

Yep, that's why it's called *conspicuous* consumption. How will people know how much money you make (or, increasingly likely, have borrowed, but that's your little secret) if you don't spend it on things? Capitalism is all about winners and losers, and for a lot of people the score is tallied in consumer goods, whether you're someone who buys a bigger SUV than the neighbour you don't like or a billionaire who buys a 350 foot yacht because someone else at the country club has a 300-footer.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:33 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've worked retail for a long time in the US (usually at one of the lowest rungs) and most of the places I've worked have had at least a little bit of payed time off that was based on how much you work. It's usually not much, but definitely some.
posted by drezdn at 2:34 PM on July 23, 2015


I've felt sometimes that a dynamic that is at play in these situations is that smaller countries with more homogenous populations have a big head start at solving these vexing societal problems. It makes me despair a bit for America because I can't imagine how we'd ever pull together the political will to make big changes here.

Some of these smaller countries also suffered during WWII, which is said to have inspired more progressive social policies.
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:34 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


unfortunately I think the average US citizen is probably all-around crappier than the average Swiss citizen which would make it impossible to enact the kind of liberated and mature work culture policies this article describes.

you can't expect a country damaged from hundreds of years of bad laws and bad economy to have a workforce that is equivalent in quality to the workforce in what is, relatively speaking, a liberal utopia.
posted by jayder at 2:34 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Interesting ZeusHumms, but what about Switzerland?
posted by MoonOrb at 2:38 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have a hard time comparing Switzerland and the United States (a comparison which happens frequently in my house, as my wife is Swiss), because Switzerland has fewer people than Los Angeles County. That's not to say we shouldn't try to learn lessons from other countries - just that it's like comparing making dinner for four to making dinner for four hundred.
posted by incessant at 2:39 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I get 30 days of paid time off, including sick days, which I didn't actually think was that much but according to the comments here it is? And my boss doesn't give a shit if I take off for two weeks at a time.

*checks imnotasquirrel's profile information for indications of employer*

*disappointed*
posted by weston at 2:43 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


An example of how bizarre our countries attitude toward works is: our city is trying to enact a paid sick day law and who is fighting it the most? The restaurant industry. Because it's apparently more important for employers to save money than it is to encourage food handlers to not show up for work with an infectious disease.
posted by octothorpe at 2:46 PM on July 23, 2015 [38 favorites]


> just that it's like comparing making dinner for four to making dinner for four hundred.

Right - it's cheaper per person to make dinner for four hundred than dinner for four - a lot cheaper. So how come Switzerland can do it and we can't?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:47 PM on July 23, 2015 [24 favorites]


I get 12 vacation days paid, I think? And I can take more if I want but I don't get paid. And since I only work 3 days a week it's really 4 weeks vacation potential. I feel bad about it sometimes but not a lot because empathy is for the weak and vacationless
posted by poffin boffin at 2:54 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Because it's apparently more important for employers to save money than it is to encourage food handlers to not show up for work with an infectious disease.

It's not simply about money. Sick days for restaurant employees are seen as what Zizek would call "theft of enjoyment." Sick days are considered the reward for having a managerial or corporate job that lower-level restaurant are not supposed to be entitled to. Sick days are then the kind of benefit that a restaurant worker is considered to be "stealing" from others by not having earned it in the same way that restaurant managers or corporate workers do.
posted by deanc at 2:58 PM on July 23, 2015 [19 favorites]


Don't be sad, my American friends, the current British government is trying to leverage idiotic nationalism into a renegotiation of our EU membership that will allow our employers to work us to death like the pathetic fucking peasants we are.

We're in this together!
posted by howfar at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've never had a job with paid sick days, much less vacation. And yes, part of this was while working in food service. We didn't even get unpaid sick days - you could be fired if you didn't show up to work while sick.

We were allowed to find our own replacements, though. Which resulted in me calling my (understandably) grumpy colleagues a few times at 5:00AM because I was scared of being the one responsible for the shop not opening because I was too dizzy and barfy to even drive to work.

This is the kind of work that a lot of Americans have.

The lack of vacation time is one of the things that makes me very bitter whenever there is a discussion about how Americans are so parochial, we never travel, blah de fucking blah. Well, I'd love to travel but until two years ago I had never been outside of the country, and even now, I've only traveled for research.

We're in this together!

I don't want to be in this together with you! I want you to have vacations and also to get me citizenship.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:11 PM on July 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


It is absurd to compare the United States to Switzerland on just about any metric. You can twist the stats any way you like and you're not getting anywhere at all.

But it's not a matter of statistical comparison, it's a matter of illustration. It is possible to organise the world in ways that doesn't include forcing people to work hours they'd desperately like to change. It seems odd to appeal to the interpretations of UN social scientists to basically tell people that they don't really want what they think they want so they should quieten down and get back to work.
posted by howfar at 3:17 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


*checks imnotasquirrel's profile information for indications of employer*

*disappointed*


I feel embarrassingly naive, reading everyone else's posts here! All of my friends seem to have more vacation time than I do, so I guess my own vacation package didn't seem that awesome by comparison. One close friend is finishing up her residency, and y'know, I always thought doctors worked crazy long hours. But while her schedule is really unpredictable and she has to get up at the asscrack of dawn, it's like she's going on one vacation or another half the time I speak to her. And another friend works in politics, which also results in weird hours, but then she has long stretches where she's not doing much of anything and has enough time to go fuck off to China for three weeks. I'm jealous. Then again, the politics friend has to deal with a lot more job insecurity than I do.
posted by imnotasquirrel at 3:24 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I up and quit a well paying high stress job that I'd been at for 12 years and earned 5 weeks of vacation. During my employment I became depressed and super bipolar, developed GERD, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and gained 60 pounds. Two weeks after resigning (privilege) with no job lined up, my cholesterol is barely elevated, BP normal, tapering off GERD meds and eventually other meds. This country (US) is so depressing and fucked up. Gotta find my own hustle. Even if I'm working just as hard around the clock, I have to think it'll be better going my own way. The 5 weeks of vacation were a reward after 10 years. As you can guess I never could get away with more than 5 at a time and hoo boy the shit you hear if you take a week off twice a year and also occasionally travel for business. Suddenly you're "never here." Fuck that
posted by aydeejones at 3:26 PM on July 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


American Exceptionalism and nationalism are hard to overcome.

she was amazed that German hospitals were "like something you'd see in America!" She'd expected them to be "dirtier".

They're trivially easy to overcome. American exceptionalism is willful ignorance on the part of millions of Americans who simply take it as fact. As a non-American living in the US (and I'm not really an immigrant I think, depending on how you want to split hairs) it's easy to see what the US does well and what it does poorly. And most middle-class Americans I know have some level of social class aspirations and so they travel and they know what other countries are like. And Silicon Valley is full of recent immigrants from around the world (to the extent where my Israeli neighbours complained about new Pakistani neighbours once. Get over it people).

But much of America isn't like this and people just swallow the story about America the Great without much critical thought or any actual evidence to the contrary. The US media is hopelessly parochial. And the US is a net culture exporter - it swamps the world with its movies and TV shows. So US citizens hardly have a chance. Are they going to watch a Danish movie at a theater? I can't even imagine it.

Anyway, I'm taking two weeks holiday starting next week but maybe that's just the crazy Canadian in me talking.

(As a random personal note, when he retired my dad got 7 weeks of vacation a year and his workplace closed every third Friday. Once us kids moved out he could hardly take it all even when he tried to. Canada, you and your crazy socialist employers)
posted by GuyZero at 3:29 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Some of these smaller countries also suffered during WWII, which is said to have inspired more progressive social policies.

There's a great book called Postwar that details post-WWII European history. The author, Tony Judt, starts the book out detailing the destruction leveled across the entire continent. It's staggering, ridiculous. The progressive policies you see implemented in Europe after WWII weren't simply philosophical changes in response to fascism, Western European governments realized there was simply no way the population was going to be able to bootstrap itself out of the devastation. Without help they'd never recover.
posted by schroedinger at 3:31 PM on July 23, 2015 [18 favorites]


We didn't even get unpaid sick days - you could be fired if you didn't show up to work while sick.

Yay for the California Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014: "Once an employee works 30 days, an employer is required to provide an employee with at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. In general, an employer must allow accrued paid sick leave to roll over to the next year."

I realize that that's cold comfort for the non-Californians out there but maybe someday.
posted by GuyZero at 3:32 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a great book called Postwar that details post-WWII European history.

It's one of the books Ta-Nehisi Coates read in the last few years: he had a lot of good things to say about it, but also rather depressing things. I need to read it, but I don't want to get depressed...
posted by suelac at 3:34 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Australia has it pretty good right now, but we are working on fixing that oversight.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:40 PM on July 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


Then there's the places where some (half-to-3/4 time!) people don't get any bennies, other part- and full-timers get OK ones and the higher-level people (by rank, not necessarily achievements) get fantastic (by any standards) packages.
posted by NorthernLite at 3:41 PM on July 23, 2015


I grew up in the US, worked in the Netherlands for 17 years and now live in Hong Kong. This is the first time in a very long time that anyone kept track of how many days I was sick (there are something like 3 days per month sick leave). But still, I realise the sick leave package here is much better (I work in retail) than it would be for anyone in the US. Think about that. Hong Kong labor practices are better than US labor practices-- and this is a country famous for its expectations on crazy hard work.

( In my Dutch job, I had more than 6 weeks paid vacation a year, unlimited sick time and my health care was completely covered. I also had no need of a car. Yes, the taxes are worse, but unless you're a banker-- who cares?)
posted by frumiousb at 3:53 PM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


Precarity Rising, Aaron Benanav
Have workers experienced a rise in job insecurity – defined as shorter hours, temporary contracts, and unstable working conditions – over the past four decades? This is no idle question. Debates around job security form one part of a larger discussion about the strategic orientation of the labor movement. Theorists such as Antonio Negri and Guy Standing identify a sharp rise in insecurity, or what is also called precarity (a term borrowed from the French), as a key feature of work and life in the present. On this basis, they argue that a shift in the form and content of class struggle must take place, or, indeed, is already taking place. One doesn’t have to agree with their specific proposals to see that their argument carries a certain force: given far-reaching changes in the composition of the working class, some sort of strategic shift is required.
The word you're looking for is precarity. The people here are the precariat.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:55 PM on July 23, 2015 [13 favorites]


Not to be an ass, but it seems a lot of things the Swiss are able to do are enabled by being the worlds most famous tax dodge.
posted by Ferreous at 4:00 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


From wikipedia: "In 2003, the financial sector comprised an estimated 11.6% of Switzerland's GDP and employed approximately 196,000 people (136,000 of whom work in the banking sector); this represents about 5.6% of the total Swiss workforce."

Swiss banks are a thing, but it's not that huge an impact to their economy. They probably make more export income from watch sales than from banking fees.
posted by GuyZero at 4:03 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Seriously, if you have a degree, get your teaching credential. There's a big teacher shortage starting pretty much right now, and enrollment in credentialing programs has been down because of all the political crap in the news.

The thing about teaching is that no matter what, there need to be teachers in classrooms, and there aren't going to be enough in the next few years. The last time there was a teacher shortage, districts were hiring people without credentials and paying for them to go back to school, as well as bonuses and moving expenses. I actually didn't interview for my teaching job 15 or so years ago... I knew a teacher at the school and she recommended me to the principal and I showed up and signed a contract.

Three months off per year, although you don't get to choose when to take them... but during those two summer months it's basically like not having a job and not having to worry about it. I'm taking a programming class and teaching my girlfriend's daughter how to cook. Tons of sick days and personal necessity days. Great benefits.

The big caveat, of course, is that you have to be able to manage and teach 30 kids and not pull your hair out, which not everyone can do.

Worried about testing? Teach Kindergarten, First, or Second grade. That's it! No testing in those grades! (Well, not the big stupid ones, anyway.)

Caveat: K and 1 kids sometimes leak. Plus you're responsible for teaching them how to read, which I love but might be stressful. 2nd is the sweet spot.

Also, being able to let shit go is super important.

(I know teachers are getting a lot of crap right now, but it's hard for politicians to talk about paying teachers less and taking perks like tenure away when there are thousands of unfilled positions in your state. YMMV if you live in those states.)
posted by Huck500 at 4:04 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Trust, Huck500, the fact that teachers are needed does not mean that teachers will be hired.

Quite the reverse, in fact.
posted by jrochest at 4:07 PM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


I recently was hired by the U.S. Branch of a German company. I have received, prorated, my PTO up front, which is a first for me. Every other company I've worked for in the past, you must accrue your time.

However, I receive 15 days of PTO, which counts for both vacation and sick leave. I think combining sick leave and vacation encourages people to hoard their PTO and come to work sick.

Also, at our orientation, our German company president sort of chuckled about how German employees get a month of paid vacation by law but we couldn't do that in the U.S. because hahaha don't be ridiculous people wouldn't come to work.
posted by Fleebnork at 4:08 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Every time I hear about the sorts of stuff Americans put up with, as a country, that Europe has figured out, it winds up reminding me of how North Koreans are constantly told how much better they have things than everyone else.
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:12 PM on July 23, 2015 [34 favorites]


> It is amazing what you can accomplish in a country run by grown-ups. This will never, ever, under any circumstances happen in the United States

Just want to note that they, no *I,* said that about having a black President. I'd have said the same thing about gay marriage a decade ago. Things change. I know we have a bunch of hateful obstinate Trumpers in this country, but things can change.

And I'm talking to me as much as I am to you.
posted by cnc at 4:13 PM on July 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


I've been at my employer for 4 years. I get 15 days PTO. I started with 10 and got the extra 5 days increase after 3 years. I won't get another bump until year 7 and then it's just an additional 2 days.

I really really don't like it at work and I fantasize about leaving. Part of the reason I won't though, is that I'll be back to 2 weeks vacation at any company I go to. I am 40 years old with a long work history but it incredibly pisses me off that I can leverage my experience and longevity in the workforce for additional salary negotiations when considering an offer but I can't bargain for more vacation instead. I've even begged my manager to give me 5 more days of vacation instead of a raise, that didn't fly either.

This is absolutely intentionally structured. Companies promise 20, 25 days after a 15-20 tenure SO THEY NEVER HAVE TO GIVE IT. Rarely in this economy can you make it 10-15 years at the same job. You get laid off, the company closes, you have burnout. They know that employee tenures are too short to accumulate decent time off. I know I'm not articulating this point well, but it's something like why bother with so much vacation time to a workforce that churns every 3-4 years?
posted by asockpuppet at 4:21 PM on July 23, 2015 [6 favorites]


My favorite poorly thought out fantasy is that on top of whatever your employer gives you, the government gives you vacation time that you can take and your employer has to abide by it. You know how Social Security sends you out a statement every year saying you've worked so many quarters and this is what your payments will be at retirement. Why can't they kick in an additional benefit. For every quarter you've worked you get x time off to use PER YEAR.

Dear asockpuppet,

It appears you have worked every quarter since June of 1992. Your annual accumulated paid SS days off is x days. These days are in addition and cannot be concurrent with your current employer's time off accrual. When putting in leave for these days contact your HR about Form - 999.

Cheers,
Social Security.
posted by asockpuppet at 4:31 PM on July 23, 2015 [10 favorites]


I was promised three weeks of vacation a year but since it's PTO that lumps sick days in with vacation it's really less than that and since you start at zero and accrue all year, you never actually get the three weeks all at once.
posted by octothorpe at 4:33 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


GuyZero: "Yay for the California Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014: "Once an employee works 30 days, an employer is required to provide an employee with at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. In general, an employer must allow accrued paid sick leave to roll over to the next year."

I... had no idea that's why my company suddenly gave me sick days. Well, sick hours that I can see accruing in my timesheet. And I thought it was some weird altruistic turn of heart.
posted by erratic meatsack at 4:43 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not to be an ass, but it seems a lot of things the Swiss are able to do are enabled by being the worlds most famous tax dodge.

There are usually 100s of excuses I hear from Americans about why the US companies can't possibly pay sick time/give decent vacation/pay health care costs-- often they center on how the countries who offer these things aren't fair/ aren't sustainable/ are cheating.

Regardless of whether the Swiss have tax dodges or not, many countries in the world manage to provide decent labor conditions. I just got back from a vacation in Mongolia, which despite being a developing country starts with 15 days paid vacation and one year paid maternity leave.
posted by frumiousb at 4:47 PM on July 23, 2015 [16 favorites]


(Seriously, I can't discuss these things with my sister at all. We've nearly stopped speaking to each other forever because it became so important to defend why US companies have to stop employees from ever taking off more than one week at a time.)
posted by frumiousb at 4:48 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


I know we have a bunch of hateful obstinate Trumpers in this country, but things can change.

neither a black president nor gay marriage cuts into a company's profits.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:49 PM on July 23, 2015 [17 favorites]


"...to defend why US companies have to stop employees from ever taking off more than one week at a time"

I'm curious as to her reasoning.
posted by kpraslowicz at 4:50 PM on July 23, 2015


I have never had paid sick leave or paid vacation days. Ever. I have no idea what that's like, but I too sure as hell know what it's like calling co-workers in the wee hours begging/cajoling/bribing them to pick up a shift for you because you are sick as a dog. (Oh, being that sick? It's not like you're gonna go to the doctor. No health care, no money to get seen unless you want to live off ramen and crackers for a bit.)

I have a slightly better paying job in another country, but I can't forget how shitty being broke and underemployed in America was.

"America is free and rich, everywhere else is enslaved and poor" runs really deep.

Oh god yes. When my parents visited Canada for the first a few years ago, it was like weird and astounding to them that it wasn't too different from home. "They have big grocery stores here too??" or "I didn't think it would be so nice here."
posted by Kitteh at 4:50 PM on July 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


I'm curious as to her reasoning.

Because then profits would drop and since the US markets are free that means they need to compete fairly unlike European companies who compete unfairly. Something like that. I think that it's mostly she doesn't want to think that it really can be different-- because then why are they doing what they do?
posted by frumiousb at 4:53 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I fully realize and understand that a lot of people are in bad situations in the US when it comes to vacation/personal/sick days. That said, if you're in a position where you may not want to leave your current position for another one because you'd lose accrued vacation days.....remember, you can always negotiate for additional days or service time as part of the salary negotiations. I'm always surprised how many people fail to do this.
posted by splen at 5:09 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have never had paid sick leave or paid vacation days. Ever.

Oh yeah, I forgot about paid sick leave. I'm in the same boat, in that I've never had that, either. The last-minute calls to get someone to cover you, ugh. I actually, honestly, didn't know until maybe a year ago that people got paid when they got vacation and sick days. I thought they were just days you got to take off without having to worry about getting fired. I'm serious, I didn't know.
posted by teponaztli at 5:13 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


remember, you can always negotiate for additional days or service time as part of the salary negotiations

Oh you can, and you can also ask for a pony and an ice cream cone and you're about as likely to get that.
posted by asockpuppet at 5:13 PM on July 23, 2015 [25 favorites]


you can always negotiate for additional days or service time as part of the salary negotiations. I'm always surprised how many people fail to do this.

My employers have generally accommodated the vacation seniority issue by giving more vacation days to people hired at a senior level than those at a junior level. So while a junior-level staffer might need to be there 3 years before going from 10 vacation days to 15 vacation days, the senior level staffer gets 15 vacation days at year 1.

At the same time, I regarded the vacation granted with 15 years of tenure to be something akin to a joke, because it assumed you were either so high level that you would be willing to stay for that long or would be willing to give up any salary increases you would have gotten by switching jobs rather than staying at your mid-level for that long.
posted by deanc at 5:15 PM on July 23, 2015


remember, you can always negotiate for additional days or service time as part of the salary negotiations. I'm always surprised how many people fail to do this.

Hah, yeah that's funny. Those rules almost always written in stone, I've never heard of someone getting more time off in negotiations.
posted by octothorpe at 5:21 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Oh you can, and you can also ask for a pony and an ice cream cone and you're about as likely to get that.


Depends on your profession, how much of a demand there is for your skill set, and where you land in the range of overall compensation.

Last month I helped a young man I mentor interview for and get a position in healthcare IT. He wasn't able to get a slightly higher salary that he wanted, but he did get two extra PTO days per year, and other additional non-salary benefits.
posted by splen at 5:22 PM on July 23, 2015


American exceptionalism is willful ignorance on the part of millions of Americans

I'd say the exceptionalism is pretty much accurate, it's the what the exceptions are that are where most of the ignorance\head-sanding lies.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:26 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


Regarding whether the average person generally knows what employment conditions are like in other countries, I can imagine that they don't. It's the old assumption that your own experience is universal.

I remember that Michael Moore stunt/sketch where he got a bunch of European tourists to tell/brag to Americans how much paid holiday time off they got (at least 4, up to 6 weeks) and the Americans having IIRC at the most 2, if any. This was the first time I'd heard of workers in first world nations getting less than 4 weeks. I'd just kinda assumed that Australians get 4 weeks as some kind of universal law (in my defence, I was a teenager or early 20s at the time). It's not hard to imagine the assumptions going the other way as well.
posted by pianissimo at 5:36 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you don't have tons of leverage in negotiations because your job is unique, you're being hired at some executive level, or there is some kind of crazy shortage of your skill, the most you can hope to do is to negotiate for the highest amount of leave that the employer offers to any employee, which in the case of many many jobs means three or possibly four weeks a year. My wife did this, and it's great, except that it increased her annual leave by five days. And she's one of the very few people in a position to get even that small amount.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:42 PM on July 23, 2015


I live and work in the US. My company gives 5 days of paid sick/vacation or "PTO" time after the first 6 months of employment. Another 5 days after the second 6 months. After THAT you wait a YEAR to receive any more--10 days all at once--which works out fine as long as you don't get sick or have personal family problems or tragedies in that second year. Last year I had taken some time off to be with my mother while she was recovering from a major surgery. She was hospitalized for over a month and required extensive home care afterward for months. My boss acted sympathetic for the first few days, but about two weeks into it I was scolded for being off my game at work. Yeah. No shit. My mom almost died and had an intense, round-the-clock recovery regime of medications, incision dressing changes, feeding tube changes....

Earlier THIS year, I was very ill, and even though I had enough PTO to cover every absence and a physician's excuse for each day I missed, I was given a written/last chance attendance warning! Yep. Even though you were clearly ill you will lose you job if you miss just one day! This week Tuesday, I was violently ill--vomiting and nausea and chills. I knew that despite this, my boss would not countenance me missing an entire day of work. After all, the Monday before, I came in a few hours late, wracked with grief after euthanizing my beloved cat of 15 years the day before. I could have easily used a week to grieve but I'm not in the best financial situation and am in the midst of moving to a new apartment so losing my job right now is not an option. So I went in three hours late, skipped lunch as I usually do, and stayed an hour late. I was still scolded for coming in late. I was told that my company "needs me to be there", they need a "full time [person with my title]." Unfuckingbelievable. Even as I sat there wrapped in heavy sweater, sipping pedialyte with a space heater on me in the middle of July (and running to the bathroom periodically to dry heave) I'm getting shit for not being here on time today.

And I'm one of the lucky ones. Most of the people in my company's employ are unskilled laborers--temps--who get no vacation or sick pay whatsoever and can expect to lose their jobs if they miss a day in the first month of an assignment, even with a medical excuse in some cases.

Personally, I think I can do better, and I intend to look for a better job once I've finished moving, but I just can't get over how shitty and unfair all of this is. And I read articles like this one and I think YES, PLEASE! I want that! But I haven't the slightest idea of how to go about it. I love things about the US. I've been lucky enough to travel abroad for months at a time (scrimp and save and quit whatever shitty job I have at the time and hope I can land something relatively quickly again when I come back). Of course I haven't been out of the country for 11 years...

This is just such a terrible, shitty way of life and I understand that it could be FAR worse, but I don't understand why it can't be better, here in the "greatest/wealthiest country on earth!" I'm so tired of companies trying to wring every last ounce of lifeblood out of me. I'm sick of the panic attacks. I'm sick of my inability to enjoy a personal day EVER because all I can think about is that they're going to can my ass because I'm not there.

There are some companies in the US that are better than this, right? Right??
Oh, god, where's my valium....
posted by apis mellifera at 5:48 PM on July 23, 2015 [12 favorites]


If you are in a position to negotiate salary, than you are more privileged than the overwhelming majority of job seekers.

Yes, if you have a specialty skill that is also in demand and also also has little competition, then sure, you may be able to do this - That's a very tiny share, though. The majority of the workers in the country are hourly, and I don't know if anyone has explicitly stated this, but there is no legal requirement for a company to offer any vacation time whatsoever in the US, and most of the states have the same take on this. That's not paid vacation vs. unpaid, that's ANY vacation whatsoever.

You think a restaurant worker who is being paid in tips and actually UNDER minimum wage is in a position to negotiate their salary? What about retail workers and fast food workers? This is just off the top of my head, I'm sure there are plenty of other categories I'm leaving out.

The problem here is NOT that people aren't negotiating. Did you read any of the stories here about people who can't even take the vacation they have? Those are from people who actually lucky enough to HAVE vacation time. Telling people they need to negotiate their vacation better is playing into the whole "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" mythology. It's good advice if you are in that position of privilege, though.
posted by MysticMCJ at 5:56 PM on July 23, 2015 [27 favorites]


" But it seems like every company I hear about these days is doing a job on a shoestring staff cut to the bone -- it's not worth it to the company to hire more people because someone wants to go on vacation for 2 weeks, even if the place would fall down without that person, and possibly because it would."

I get 3.5 weeks of vacation a year. I've occasionally taken two weeks off at a time, but mostly I've only done that during Christmas because I get four of those days off for free anyway, and nothing much is going on then to cause issues if I'm out. Mostly I think it's just really hard to play catchup after one week, much less two--and I say that as someone who does the same job as 2 other people and those two others have to do my job when I'm out. For whatever issues my industry has, at least the vacation and other benefits are nice.

But seriously, our staff is so painfully cut to the bone it's excruciating. We're ridiculously low on managers in our unit--it took them 9 months to hire another one and the learning curve is incredibly steep so she's still in drowning mode right now herself. I was the last adult permahire and we really, really need more because people retired or got other jobs (within the office usually) and any time someone's out the dominoes start falling. Aren't we not supposed to be getting budget cut this year? At what point can we afford to hire anyone permanently? We have a great staff of student employees that we need to be hiring for more than six month stints after they graduate.

Also, I don't think it's fair that my group of three (with some part time assistance from the occasional other person) has to do a workload previously processed by SIXTEEN OTHER PEOPLE in another office. And they're doing that part time while we're doing it part time. That's just ridiculous.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:03 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


*checks imnotasquirrel's profile information for indications of employer*

*disappointed*

posted by weston


I've worked at a major automotive manufacturer and their staff benefits were set according to local norms, which may be more in some countries, less in others. We got 32 days paid time off per year plus the personal use of a factory new company vehicle that was refreshed every 6 months according to whatever vehicle spec you input into the global factory manufacturing system, they would ship you nearly any model you wanted made anywhere in the world. That's all just for regular workers, mind you, if you were a manager or higher you got to pick out a vehicle for your wife too. Sick leave accumulates at the rate of 24 days a year and sick leave was paid out at your current salary rate if you didn't take them.
posted by xdvesper at 6:14 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


Did you read any of the stories here about people who can't even take the vacation they have? Those are from people who actually lucky enough to HAVE vacation time. Telling people they need to negotiate their vacation better is playing into the whole "pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps" mythology. It's good advice if you are in that position of privilege, though.

Which is why I prefaced what I said with the understanding that a lot of people are in a bad situation when it comes to how their employer handles vacation (or salary). I think it's nearly criminal that folks are paid less that minimum wage or are not given reasonable time off. I think sucks that people feel guilty or pressured into not taking vacation as well -- I fall into that category as well.

All I was saying is that if you are in that position of 'privilege', remember to look at the overall compensation package, not just salary (which only makes up about 70% of what an employer spends on you). A few extra days off doesn't impact that number very much for them, but might for you.
posted by splen at 6:17 PM on July 23, 2015


I get 23 vacation/2 personal, plus unlimited sick time as needed. Did I mention we're hiring?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:23 PM on July 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


In Australia, perm full time employees get 4 weeks of annual leave, paid with a 17.5% loading, which accrues, plus 10 days "personal leave" which doesn't accrue. Many people "save up" their annual leave, which shows up as a big red number on the company's accounts, which grows every year, because annual leave is payable at your salary rate at the time the leave is paid (and people's salary will generally go up over the years).

This leads to the company's management practically begging these "leave hoarders" to take a damn break.

I knew a guy who worked at a company for 20 years, never took leave, then retired and got paid almost 2 years of his retirement-age salary, at 17.5% loading, plus several more years long service leave.

On the other hand, since that company got bought out and we were all retrenched, I've only been able to find work about 2/3rds of the time, at 2/3 my previous salary, and on a contract basis, so no paid time off or other perks at all.
posted by Diag at 6:32 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because then profits would drop and since the US markets are free that means they need to compete fairly unlike European companies who compete unfairly. Something like that. I think that it's mostly she doesn't want to think that it really can be different-- because then why are they doing what they do?

Best not tell her about New Zealand then... Not in Europe, freer markets than the U.S., higher on the world happiness index than the U.S. Not a tax haven, legal minimum is 4 weeks paid holiday per year, with paid sick leave in addition.

Where I work [and this is not something abnormal, previous workplaces have had the same attitude], if you need people to stay late / work weekends etc to get the job done, you get rapped over the knuckles for not properly resourcing the project.

This is not something magically special about Switzerland, this is NORMAL in most of the civilised world.

I think a lot of culture change would have to happen before most people supported something like this in the US.

IMHO the root of the problem is that the U.S. is not a functional democracy. You don't need to fix your culture so much as you need to fix your political system.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:33 PM on July 23, 2015 [32 favorites]


I work for a public university, and I get *a lot* of vacation time, at least by US standards. I get 24 days and a couple of personal days, plus all national holidays. I think I end up with at least five weeks a year, and that doesn't count sick leave. I'm always a little worried that the media is going to get wind of it and do some sort of expose on how over-privileged university employees are, and then we'll lose all our vacation days. And the thing is, I really don't make very much money by private sector standards, so I think the extra perks like vacation time sort of even things out.

Anyway, having vacation time is great, not just because I can sometimes go on vacation, but also because I can take a random day to clean the house, or take the afternoon off when I'm really tired or stressed out and go to the movies. There are times when I can't take any vacation time because we're busy, but there are also times when having a lot of vacation time affords me a little bit of flexibility, which is really nice. On the other hand, I think a lot of people in higher-status jobs have flexibility without having to ask for it and take a vacation day, and I definitely do need to document everything and get permission and fill out forms and whatnot.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:35 PM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


but he did get two extra PTO days per year, and other additional non-salary benefits.

Ok I'm sorry but in the context of this thread that made me laugh out loud. Not bragging, shocked.
posted by glasseyes at 6:40 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think part of it all comes down to how America, as a society, considers it a higher priority to create a "level playing field" by making everything worse for everyone rather than by making anything better.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:47 PM on July 23, 2015 [21 favorites]


The idea that it's easy to negotiate for more paid vacation is simply ridiculous. I work for a US university as a software engineer, and have been there long enough that I get 5 weeks of paid vacation plus 11 paid holidays. Despite being in a highly sought-after field, my experience interviewing for other jobs is that nobody wants to come close to matching my current vacation. In one case it was implied during the negotiation process that I could ask for permission to take an extra week unpaid beyond the standard allotment. This wasn't at a giant company with rigid rules, either, it was at a startup with barely over 100 employees.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:02 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


by making everything worse for everyone rather than by making anything better

See also: the reaction I've seen lots of places to the $15/hr minimum wage in places like LA, which is basically "Why should THEY get $15 an hour when *I* don't? I work so much harder / am so much smarter / etc."

Sigh.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:02 PM on July 23, 2015 [11 favorites]


I think the moral of this thread may be that, if you live in the US and you want vacation time, you should get a job at a university.

I mean, that's not in any way the moral of this thread. There are other, more important morals. But it is a fact that is true.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:17 PM on July 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


I wanted more vacation time-now I work at a university too!

Of course I took a huge pay cut to get it, but the quality of life I have now is so much better.

Regarding New Zealand, the four weeks mandatory annual leave was something they instituted only after I left there, alas, although my wife, whose job was better than mine, got comp time and as a result had an insane amount of time off. And quality of life was high there too, but wow, did we pay for it in terms of lower wages and higher taxes. I think I took home something like 30% of what I was making in the states.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:30 PM on July 23, 2015


For all that it is worth telling people in one place about the surprisingly good things in another place, I do wish that the author had spent some more time discussing why, despite the great work/life balance there, she no longer lives in Switzerland.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:50 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


you can always negotiate for additional days or service time as part of the salary negotiations. I'm always surprised how many people fail to do this.

I wish I could say I was surprised at how many people fail to recognize how lucky they are when they're in a field where hiring managers don't laugh at the very idea of "salary negotiations". But I'm not.

For both of my last two jobs, I was flat-out told "Here's the number. We're not negotiating it." What if I don't take the health insurance because I have a better plan through my spouse? "Then you don't have to pay your share of the premium." Even though it saves you way more money than that? "Do you want the job or not?"

The market is a fucking slaughterhouse these days for 95 percent of the American workforce, and I'm pretty sure I'm undercounting.
posted by Etrigan at 8:18 PM on July 23, 2015 [19 favorites]


One state at a time. We don't live in a country, we live in 50 countries that wear a large trenchcoat with eyes peeping out between the buttons at waist level and a few too many legs coming out of the bottom, and what's good for 1 country isn't always good for the other 49, but they all take notice. That's true whether you're union-busting or putting in the $15 hourly wage. Trying to do the whole US at once is a fool's errand because there's no interest in doing it that's shared by all the people, all the countries within the US. Start by recognizing the states, and then convert them one at a time until a critical mass occurs. It happened with slavery and secession, and it happened with racial civil equality and equal marriage; it might happen with legal pot and it could happen with banning alcohol sales on Sundays, but the US Government is going to prevent change, whichever way, while the political cost runs too high to do it nationally.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:40 PM on July 23, 2015 [9 favorites]


Setting labor standards at the federal level is not some new fangled idea. Whether it's child labor laws, rules for overtime pay, or family medical leave, there's ample precedent for having minimum standards that all states must comply with. Setting two weeks plus holidays as the bare minimum should not be controversial in any state, and if it is, well, tough noogies.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:45 PM on July 23, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is one of the big reasons I have stayed in the non-profit field. Yes, there are non-profits that pay starvation wages and/or are stingy about PTO, but all of the NPOS I worked for in my pretty long career had really good benefits. Like starting with three weeks of vacation (on top of sick time), paid parental leave, being closed between Christmas and New Years, etc. And pretty much everyone but senior management gets to take their vacation without working unless there's a crazy emergency only that person can handle. Hell, my current org even has a paid sabbatical option that most people take (you do have to actually do something enriching, but it doesn't have to be directly related to your current position).

(But of course, our European colleagues are always there to make us feel like we're getting ripped off, even with our benefits. Lots of people taking the entire month of August off, for instance. )

I think this works really well on a practical level. For most nonprofits, the value comes from the quality of the work its employees do - and employees who get rest will do better work. Also, it allows us to hire better people and keep them longer. Funny how treating people like human beings and not just work-product units instills loyalty.

You would think the same would be true for for-profit companies too - that higher-quality work equals higher profits. But the market has become so distorted.

The thing is, I know I'm extremely lucky, and I only have this job because of certain privileges I had (like a good education and the ability to move around to pursue opportunities like this job). It is actually really enraging to me that decent leave policies are seen as a privilege and something you only get if you're lucky enough to have an employer that views you as a human being.
posted by lunasol at 8:49 PM on July 23, 2015


I took 3 weeks off over Christmas/New Years last year and it was pretty good. It's a relatively quiet time at work and the office didn't burn down or anything. The best part was setting my email responder to tell people I wouldn't be checking my email at all over this period and that if it was an emergency to speak to someone in the office (spoiler alert, there were no emergencies). BUT apart from those 3 weeks I didn't take any other time off during the year. My goal for this and all future years is to semi-close the office for the entire month of December and to fully close it over the school holiday period. I would close for religious holidays as well but Muslims can't decide on a holiday until the night before it's supposed to happen, and many times not even then.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:31 PM on July 23, 2015


> Whether it's child labor laws, rules for overtime pay, or family medical leave, there's ample precedent for having minimum standards that all states must comply with.

The precedent to the passage of the 1938 FLSA, which federalized child labor law, overtime pay, and the minimum wage, was 9 years of the Great Depression; and that may well be where we'd have to be in order to force this kind of sweeping change in labor laws. I think I'll stick with one state at a time.

Feds may be one way to wreak change, but it's small-minded to act as if they're the only way.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:51 PM on July 23, 2015


"In Australia, perm full time employees get 4 weeks of annual leave, paid with a 17.5% loading, which accrues, plus 10 days "personal leave" which doesn't accrue."

Shhhh!

You'll be telling them about long service leave next!
posted by Pinback at 10:58 PM on July 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


I work at a university in Australia. We get four (or is it six?) weeks leave a year, plus the time from Christmas Eve to the second or third of January or something as well. The reason I don't know the details, though, is that I have never actually met anyone who takes more than about a week of that, and only then as one or two days tacked on to the ends of conference travel, for sightseeing or jetlag purposes.

The lack of job security in academia (Australia doesn't really have tenure anymore) means that you are always on (at best) 3-5 year contracts (or like my husband, 3-6 MONTH contracts) and whenever you are reassessed you had better be able to prove that you have been super-duper productive in the past contract period. Chances are you won't get to keep the job anyway, as funding streams are often also limited to those short periods, so you'll be back on the job market, and it all depends on your CV. So of course you won't have been taking 4-6 week breaks from writing, publishing, grant-writing, etc every year.

I've heard that there are jobs where people take their annual leave, though, in the "real world".
posted by lollusc at 11:17 PM on July 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Trust, Huck500, the fact that teachers are needed does not mean that teachers will be hired.
Quite the reverse, in fact.


The teachers here literally get laid off every year and may or may not be rehired. A friend of mine is scrambling for a new job at least every other year. Teaching doesn't look like a good option these days either, the way they're being treated.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:18 PM on July 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


Note the holiday pay accrues, though, as someone said above. So at least when your contract doesn't get renewed, you usually get a nice big payout at the end. And the 17.5% loading as well. I couldn't believe that when I first moved to Australia. Apparently the rationale is that a holiday (vacation) is expensive, so you'll need more money in your pay packet while you are on holiday. Of course.
posted by lollusc at 11:24 PM on July 23, 2015


The best part was setting my email responder to tell people I wouldn't be checking my email at all over this period and that if it was an emergency to speak to someone in the office

I always have to stop myself from adding "You are an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill" to mine.
posted by thelonius at 11:29 PM on July 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Switzerland sounds great and all but in the meantime how do I get one of these American jobs where you can post on Metafilter while on the clock?
posted by Hiding From Goro at 12:37 AM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ha! Joke's on you, I'm unemployed.
posted by teponaztli at 1:30 AM on July 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


frumiousb: (Seriously, I can't discuss these things with my sister at all. We've nearly stopped speaking to each other forever because it became so important to defend why US companies have to stop employees from ever taking off more than one week at a time.)
Which is hilarious because for positions of special fiduciary trust, e.g. CFO, Controller, etc., it's a common practice to require them to vacate the premises and basically be unreachable for at least 15 consecutive days of every fiscal year.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:29 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm so tired of companies trying to wring every last ounce of lifeblood out of me.

The management and sales people tap me with no secrecy. It is my job to accept it.

- Jeff Nicholson: Through The Habitrails
posted by flabdablet at 3:43 AM on July 24, 2015


After moving to the public sector five years ago and now earning 20 days leave + 13 days sick time per year, I've already decided there's no way I'm going back to private. Yes, the bureaucracy of being a federal employee (not to mention being hated on by every conservative politician in government) is maddening but it's a small price to pay for reasonable benefits and a somewhat normal work-life balance.

Well, that was certainly depressing to this US citizen. But not surprising; that Puritan work ethic really is a curse.

Definitely is. I think the core understated attribute of America is anxiety, prevalent everywhere and expressed in so many different ways.


Oh god yes, this is so spot-on correct. It seems like many Americans (including several I know personally) literally invest their entire identity in their job. They work 60+ hour weeks, never take a vacation, even avoid marriage/kids because it gets in the way of career - and they're "supposed" to work hard and get ahead. Then, when the rug's pulled out from under them for whatever reason (layoffs, health issues, lost promotion, etc) they completely freak out - not because of the money, but because of the loss of identity. I don't know how to fix this obsession with work in our country, but it's definitely depressing to see.
posted by photo guy at 3:53 AM on July 24, 2015 [16 favorites]


In my experience it is not so much the lack of vacation days, but the complete inability or unwillingness of anyone to do the work I usually do while I am on vacation. I come back to a boat load of backed up work, so what kind of vacation is that? Managers fail to assign proper coverage, people drop the ball, whatever it may be, knowing that I'm coming back from vacation to one or two of the busiest weeks of the year is not much to look forward to.
posted by Gungho at 6:21 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


It is amazing what you can accomplish in a country run by grown-ups. This will never, ever, under any circumstances happen in the United States.

I only have one question for that author... what the hell are you doing back here? That's not a "Murica! Love it or leave it you hipster commie pinko!" kinda question. Just curious of what her reasoning was for coming back because that list is pretty convincing one for staying in Switzerland. To me, "being close to family" isn't a convincing enough reason given the laundry list of cons of leaving Switzerland. We can Skype.

It's not that you can't find that kind of work environment in America, it's just really, really hard. I have a job at a great company that respects their employees, pays them what their worth, and genuinely works very hard to let them have a true work-life balance. After working continuously since I was 16 years old, it took me until I was forty-effing-six to find a company that behaved this way. That, in my opinion, is the real problem. That what the author experienced is genuinely possible in America. American just chooses not to do it. Every other company I worked for was one of two types:
1. Lean and mean, with emphasis on the mean.
2. We'll bleed every ounce of productivity out of you during the week, nights, and weekends, and if you have time and experience in with us and complain, we'll find some hungry college kid to do what you do for waaaaaay less money. So go to your kid's dance recital on your own time... if you can find any.
posted by prepmonkey at 6:44 AM on July 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


This isn’t meta for me.

I moved to Switzerland awhile earlier than the author. We might have overlapped a year or so and from the sounds of it, lived close to each other.

This is difficult. It’s one of those threads that makes me feel like I need to disclose my whole life to share my viewpoint. I moved from Boston to Zurich just under 20 years ago. It was home for about 8 years. I loved it. I probably shouldn’t have left. I’d certainly be more well off if I hadn’t. Melbourne is a great place to live. So are Tokyo and Shanghai, btw.

I’m not sure how to categorise my experiences. I worked for a big corporate in Texas and Massachusetts in the ’80’s. Crappy benefits, didn’t care. Got laid off and unemployed for almost a year until landing at a non-profit children’s care organisation.

Given they ran several facilities that homed troubled kids that had to be staffed 365, they had a wonderful approach to time off: 7 weeks a year, incorporating everything. Sick leave, religious holidays, vacation, national days. It all came out of the 7 weeks. Jewish?, happy to work christmas. Muslim? easter’s ok by me. (Side step, I had SRS while working there and still got fired. It was my own fault. I was a basket case through those days). The concept was basically; there were children in our care and that never stops, so strip the bullshit away.

That was my last normal job in the US. I reinvented myself in the 90’s as an Internet person (I have an obscure but solid intersection around a number of internet(y) standards stuff both independently and through subsequent big consulting work)

Back to the story. I’d done some work with an academic author on hypertext to instantiate some ideas. I wrote the code to work in the early browsers and it was included in the books and I moved on. A few years later the editor contacted me asking if I’d be interested in a gig in Europe.

I lived in Basel my first six months in Switzerland. Ironically enough on Amerikanerstrasse. The stores tuned themselves to when parents would be able to shop. I worked my ass off and had to adjust to store hours being aligned to when families might shop. Resigning a position meant 3 months of continued work together. Holidays were, well, expected. It was as if not having holidays and other elements to your personal life was a limitation.

I wasn’t more than a couple of years past being in my own skin. And you know what? HR departments in a Big 6 and government functionaries in Switzerland looked completely past my incongruous gender and education records. They made it come together and gave me a legitimacy that I had no hope of achieving in the US.

I have these folks to thank for my continued existence. Same to a few folks in Australia and China, albeit with a stronger professional track record.

I’m not sure what the take away is. I’ll repeat myself in that when working, the expectation was that I’d just say yes and travel, work, write. But it was just as much assumed that I’d play, relax and take time off. To do otherwise was just weird.

So yeah. It has it’s problems, but Switzerland kicks ass.
posted by michswiss at 7:02 AM on July 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


I work in the US for a large company, get 20 days of vacation, and never have a problem using two weeks at a time guilt-free. There's also 12 holidays and our sick day policy is "don't come to work when you are sick."

So it's not impossible to find a pretty good setup in the US.
posted by smackfu at 8:35 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Given that, switching jobs for higher pay would almost surely cut my vacation time, so it's very unattractive and I'm probably underpaid because of it. But happy.)
posted by smackfu at 9:04 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I work at a huge international company, and my entire summer has been punctuated with "this project is going to be delayed because so-and-so will be on holiday for (3, 4, 6) weeks." Yeah, one of my German counterparts is on holiday for SIX. WEEKS. I feel the bile rising in my throat as I type this.

But I don't understand feeling guilty. If I had six weeks of vacation? Fuck yeah I'd use it and not look back. Good for Piotr, I hope he is lounging by the pool right now.
posted by desjardins at 9:27 AM on July 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


this project is going to be delayed because so-and-so will be on holiday for (3, 4, 6) weeks.

So one ever-so-slight downside of the European model is that they all vacation at the same time and go roughly to the same places so there isn't an infinite amount of freedom. It's sort of by mutual consent that they all holiday in the summer, driven largely by school schedules of course. At the same time, that's why they can all take 6 weeks off - because if everyone takes six weeks off at the same time then there's no issues about who's covering for you - no one is! The country shuts down! But I suppose if you were single and wanted six weeks off in the fall it might actually be hard to arrange.

For trans-national companies, yeah, this is annoying.
posted by GuyZero at 9:42 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


My sister works for a French multi-national and her Augusts have always been horrible because the American side of the firm (which doesn't get generous vacation time) ends up doing twice the work while their European co-workers spend the month at the beach.
posted by octothorpe at 10:03 AM on July 24, 2015


Impossible to find quality jobs in the U.S. with sufficient pay and good work/life balance? No, not impossible. Just not likely.

And while I understand that the likelihood goes up if you prioritize searching for this type of job and make sacrifices and thoughtful choices to help you obtain one, wouldn't it be awesome if the default mode would be flip flopped?

Instead of the default being a situation where those privileged (and hardworking, and acting with intention, I'm not ignoring those aspects) few of us with these great jobs get to point out that Yes it is possible for you to have this too, it would be cool if it were the case that this option would be the baseline for everyone.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:04 AM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm among those that took a pay cut for work/life balance, which included both when I leave the office (4:30 now vs. 6:30 then), but also vacation time. I'm in a field where the billable hour is king in the private sector, and though my old firm had no vacation policy at all (take as much as you want, so long as there's coverage) the billable hour and workload expectations meant that a couple of weeks a year was a big ask. Now that I'm working for the government, it's expected that you'll use your vacation time, and you start accruing PTO at just under 2 days per month, plus government holidays (like veteran's day!). So far, I'm very happy with the change.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:48 AM on July 24, 2015


It is absurd to compare the United States to Switzerland on just about any metric.

Yes, this is correct Cool Papa Bell. Although Switzerland is not a part of the EU nor the EEA, its very stridently a part of the European internal market and has social and labor policies that align generally with the EU member states.

By all means, feel free to reevaluate the linked article with reference to any other EU state and its comparability to the nature and regulation of US labor.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:58 AM on July 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Interesting ZeusHumms, but what about Switzerland?
posted by MoonOrb at 16:38 on July 23


Mulling this over, there probably lots of different scenarios at play which explain progressive social policy. Perhaps there are common elements like empathy.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2015


I work at a not-for-profit for basically this reason. I have 232 hours of PTO (holidays, vacation, sick), which is basically a month off. I also have really great health insurance. My pay is a bit low for my experience level, but that's a trade-off I'm willing to make. I resent like hell that I have to make those kinds of trade-offs, though.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:12 AM on July 24, 2015


Siigghhh. I keep telling you to follow the money.
posted by notreally at 11:57 AM on July 24, 2015


See also: the reaction I've seen lots of places to the $15/hr minimum wage in places like LA, which is basically "Why should THEY get $15 an hour when *I* don't? I work so much harder / am so much smarter / etc."

See, and it's my fervent hope that they can get that $15 minimum wage, and that that spreads, because I am basically a clerical worker who doesn't make that much, and I'm hoping I can use that as leverage to AT LEAST bring me up to what some places consider minimum wage.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:47 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


The United States is Europe's China.
posted by gehenna_lion at 4:36 PM on July 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


The United States is a third-world country that thinks itself a first-world country. The healthcare system, the employment standards, the violence, the electoral system, the education system — on so many facets, it has failed or is failing. A small number of Americans have access to and live a quality first-world existence; almost everyone else, not so much.

The sooner the myth of Americzn exceptionalism is known to be a fraud, the sooner the population might start doing something about it.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:32 PM on July 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


Man, I don't know. I feel like there are ways of expressing the gulf between most Americans and the super wealthy without trotting out comparisons to populations who live in conditions that are vastly worse.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:08 PM on July 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cool Papa Bell: It is absurd to compare the United States to Switzerland on just about any metric. You can twist the stats any way you like and you're not getting anywhere at all.

Ok, let's take a look at another, perhaps more comparable entity, why don't we?

According to No‐vacation nation USA – a comparison of leave and holiday in OECD countries (PDF from 2007 - go there and look at the graph on page 2!):

The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid leave. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid public holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world's rich countries offer between five and 13 paid public holidays per year. (p.1)
---
The European Union's (EU) Working Time Directive (1993) sets a paid-leave floor for all EU member countries of four weeks or 20 days per year. Several EU member countries require substantially more than the lower limit established by the EU. (p.2)

Note: This 4 week / 20 day minimum is still in place in the current text of European Union's (EU) Working Time Directive.

The most recent estimated population of the USA is ~319MM.
The most recent estimated population European Union is ~503MM, 58% more than that of the USA.

I submit that it is in no way absurd to compare the United States to the European Union on the metric of average paid time off.
posted by syzygy at 3:13 AM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


And I'll chime in with a bit of personal (anec)data. I've told variations of this story a number of times on Metafilter, so I'll try to keep it short.

I was laid off from a failing dot com in 2000 and saw the writing on the wall. It seemed to me that it might take a while for the job market in the US to recover, so what better time to buy a backpack and bum around Europe for a little while? I did just that and explored employment options as I backpacked around Europe for 3 months (financed by some savings I'd built up during the bubble).

I didn't start looking in earnest until about three months later, when I arrived in Vienna. Modern, clean, safe city with tons of culture surrounded by so much natural beauty and so many interesting countries. I got a couple of job offers here and took the one I thought was the best (international company, so the name would be recognized when I returned to the States - hah!). The company I went with offered a decent salary, but nowhere near what I'd earned at my best job during the bubble. During salary and benefits negotiations, the CEO of the local operation asked me to commit to working for them for at least two years.

That was a tough call - I told him I was taking a pretty big pay cut, and hadn't really planned on committing to more than a year in Europe. He told me he thought I'd find that the benefits and quality of life made up for the pay cut, and that I'd probably be happy sticking around a couple of years. So I committed to two years and figured I'd see how things went.

I'm still here, and I have no intention to return to live in the US. I started out my new job with 25 days of annual vacation and a number of paid public holidays. If you time it right here with the public holidays, you can take off 3 weeks straight twice a year - once in May/June and once around Christmas.

So that's what I did the first years - 3 weeks in the summer to somewhere exotic (Egypt, China & Mongolia, Brazil) and 3 weeks around Christmas to visit family and friends back in the US.

I could go on about the benefits of living here - dedicated bike lanes and paths, ridiculously low violent crime rate, hiking in the Alps, travelling by train, subway, tram, bus, foot (haven't owned a car since I came here), a more conservative approach to money matters, in which being in debt is frowned upon. In short, although I have probably earned less than I would have had I stayed in the US, I am convinced that I am a much richer man for having spent the last 14 and a half years here.

Man, was that CEO ever right. I would not trade the quality of life I experience living here for a 50% or even a 100% increase in my salary working for an average firm in the US. Fuggedaboutit.

And I don't say this to rub it in anyone's face. Rather, I say it hoping to inspire people and show them that things can be different, that they don't have to be like they are in the US right now.
posted by syzygy at 3:48 AM on July 25, 2015 [13 favorites]


Forgot to mention - this talk of a maximum number of paid sick days... There's no such thing here. If you're full-time employed and the Dr. says you're sick, you don't go to work, and you still get 100% pay. The way that's handled here is that the social security agency pays your wages while you're sick, and they make sure you're not going back to work at the office on their dime.

And the pregnancy leave. Pregnant mothers get four months off at 100% pay (2 before and 2 after giving birth), after which the family can choose between a number of pregnancy leave options, with up to two years off for the mother with pay sliding from, I think 80% at the start to around 25% toward the end and a guaranteed job for 6 months afterwards. And you can reset the whole process by timing your second child to come 2 months after your 2 year leave ends. You get the full 4 months at 100% salary again, and another 2 years of leave (ad nauseum for as many kids as you want to have).

And the health insurance - a construction laborer (not a big earner) I know had a massive heart attack 3 weeks ago. He was life-flighted with a helicopter to the nearest large hospital, and as soon as his condition had stabilized enough, he was flown on an airplane to Vienna to continue recovery in the ICU at the largest hospital in Europe. I've visited him in the ICU on multiple occasions - modern, clean with plenty of competent, friendly personnel. He won't have to pay a dime out of his own pocket.
posted by syzygy at 3:59 AM on July 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


MoonOrb, I'm thinking about ghetto Philly, Chicago, and Detroit. Horrific levels of violence, with dozens of people being shot every day. I'm thinking of areas in Appalachia, and the rural South. Areas with no potable water. Places where Doctors Without Borders sets up parking lot medical clinics.

I think it is honest and a true recognition of poverty in the US to say that there are significantly large and populated areas that suffer third world conditions. Denying and downplaying that reality helps perpetuate those conditions.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:51 AM on July 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


BTW, my claim is not unusual and is well-supported by a range of authors and publications.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:19 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Late to the thread but I just want to point out that my company in the US gives unlimited vacation days to everyone. There are some abuses, and some pressure not to take off when things are crazy, but on the whole people get their shit done and take around 4 weeks total. Having a family makes this especially great since I don't have to come in on random days around the holidays. It is possible!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:20 AM on July 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Threads like these make me wish so hard that I could figure out a way to get out of the US. Due to a bunch of family crises all running together over the last four months, I have basically used up my PTO. And I'm lucky - I'm in the tiny, tiny minority of retail workers who even get any at all. But staring down the next five months of 2015 knowing that a vacation is out of the question and if I get sick and can't work I won't get paid (less than $15 an hour of course) is just so depressing and wrong.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:45 AM on July 25, 2015


Also late to this thread, I want to thank everyone who shared because it gives me (European working for US-based firms but as a freelancer, thankfully - and I mean proper freelance*) a lot of fascinating and scary extra insight into how the system works over there.

(I wouldn’t really take super rich Switzerland as the best term of comparison though! Take any larger country in Europe, even the ones with a not so solid economy, you’d have the same benefits for a full time job but a lower salary and higher taxes, so you’d have more of a give and take, and you’d have to find a good full time job in the first place.)

*On the freelance thing, there is one question I wanted to ask, in the Vox post, at the start where it mentions the job the author was offered once back from the states – isn’t a "full-time freelance position with a long commute, no benefits" supposed to be... fraud? Isn’t it misclassification of employees as independent contractors?

Or what’s the deal, how did the employer there get away with it? How can "full-time" and "freelance" be demanded from one single employer without incurring in that violation? Or is that no one simply bothers to report this kind of misclassification because it’s so widespread?

I’m very interested also because unfortunately we’ve seen this sort of thing happening more and more in Europe too, though in different ways, exploiting other kinds of local legal loopholes and contracts to avoid employing people as either full-time employees with all benefits or as proper freelance ie. with none of the demands in terms of working hours or availability that would be in "employee, not contractor" territory.


And another question, on syzygy’s comment a few comments above, this bit:

And the health insurance - a construction laborer (not a big earner) I know had a massive heart attack 3 weeks ago. He was life-flighted with a helicopter to the nearest large hospital, and as soon as his condition had stabilized enough, he was flown on an airplane to Vienna to continue recovery in the ICU at the largest hospital in Europe. I've visited him in the ICU on multiple occasions - modern, clean with plenty of competent, friendly personnel. He won't have to pay a dime out of his own pocket.

Here I am almost terrified to ask but... does this imply that in the US, if this had happened, very same scenario (assuming a construction site in the mountains somewhere without a hospital nearby), the construction worker would have been... billed? for both the emergency helicopter and hospital care?

Regardless of the healthcare coverage, don’t emergencies of this kind at least get covered by the employer’s own insurance covering work accidents?
posted by bitteschoen at 2:14 AM on July 26, 2015


.Regardless of the healthcare coverage, don’t emergencies of this kind at least get covered by the employer’s own insurance covering work accidents?

I don't see any implication that this was a work accident. I assumed he just lived in a small village or something.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:35 AM on July 26, 2015


Also that's assuming that the employer actually bothered to get workplace insurance which considering how dodgy the construction industry can be, can't be assumed.
posted by octothorpe at 5:17 AM on July 26, 2015


Here I am almost terrified to ask but... does this imply that in the US, if this had happened, very same scenario (assuming a construction site in the mountains somewhere without a hospital nearby), the construction worker would have been... billed? for both the emergency helicopter and hospital care?

Honestly, it more so implies that in that very same scenario, the construction worker would have just sort of died on the spot if he didn't have good enough insurance. If he did have enough insurance to convince a hospital to airlift him out, he would almost certainly wind up filing for bankruptcy as soon as he was kicked out of the hospital for having run out of money.

On the one hand, sure, I might be exaggerating a little, but on the other hand, there is plenty of actual evidence that the United States is literally a country where ambulances will drive in circles until a patient dies if they find out they're uninsured.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:32 AM on July 27, 2015


DoctorFedora: but is insurance a requirement even in emergencies? I find that really hard to understand, and I mean, before and regardless of any judgement, in a neutral way, it’s incomprehensible to me, it’s not logical.

I had a schoolmate back in Italy whose dad had a heart attack while out in the mountains many years ago and they airlifted him to the hospital with a helicopter, and I never thought much of that, it’s not something I think of as peculiar. So when I read that comment here I thought, yeah, so? what’s striking about it? They do that, they’d do that for anyone, the rescue helicopters in locations like that (and that was near Switzerland, so the mountains are big mountains, lots of inaccesible areas) are obviously more expensive than regular ambulance services, but it’s the same principle - they are funded the same way by taxpayers money and they are required by law to pick up anyone in an emergency situation, it could be someone without even a passport and a registered address, if they get a call for someone having a major health crisis like that, they need to pick them up.

I know the system is different from the national health service model I grew up with, my mind can at least with some effort process the idea that in the US system healthcare is a matter of insurance, and different options of insurance like on property, rather than a public national service funded by all, like roads or schools, but I can’t understand why that difference would affect accidents and life-threatening emergencies. That makes no sense. It’s not elective surgery, it’s not treatment for secondary health issues, it’s not an extra blood test to check if you’re lactose intolerant or your levels of vitamin D*. It’s a heart attack in the mountains. You cannot make the person having a heart attack pay for that. It goes against logic.

You’d rescue people in a natural disaster, you wouldn’t charge them for that. Isn’t it the same?

*(not that those are useless, but they can be abused and I don’t mind the idea of paying for that stuff for those who can afford it - we do pay an extra sum for that kind of thing even with a doctor’s prescription, and I think it’s only fair)
posted by bitteschoen at 4:52 PM on July 28, 2015


You cannot make the person having a heart attack pay for that. It goes against logic. You’d rescue people in a natural disaster, you wouldn’t charge them for that.
This is... worryingly optimistic. I mean, US ERs are required to stabilize you regardless of ability to pay, sure, but that's about the extent of it (And they'll bankrupt you in a reluctantly-granted heartbeat in the process).

ERs are the treatment of last resort. It's pretty well-known for someone to go to the ER, get stabilized (but not be able to afford whatever it is that would actually solve the problem), have to leave, then return a few days/weeks later with the same issue (rinse repeat).

Going back to your point on natural disasters... Where's the 'cannot' here? I mean, I entirely agree, one *shouldn't* be charged, but that's the old "is/ought" problem again. I know we've had at least one thread here where firefighters let a house burn (but contained it from spreading) because they didn't pay their firefighting fees.
posted by CrystalDave at 6:00 PM on July 28, 2015


You cannot make the person having a heart attack pay for that. It goes against logic.

Hospitals aren't generally in the business of giving away care for free so if the patient doesn't have insurance, they're certainly going to asked to pay for it. And have their bill sent to a collection agency if they don't.
posted by octothorpe at 6:37 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


firefighters let a house burn (but contained it from spreading) because they didn't pay their firefighting fees.

I should probably add on, rereading that thread, that this isn't to impugn the firefighters, but rather the system in place which pushed against funding county-wide firefighting via taxes.
posted by CrystalDave at 6:46 PM on July 28, 2015


Bitteschoen, I think the issue at hand is that you are viewing this from a fundamentally optimistic viewpoint that fails to take into account that, in the United States, healthcare is at its core a for-profit venture.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:42 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here I am almost terrified to ask but... does this imply that in the US, if this had happened, very same scenario (assuming a construction site in the mountains somewhere without a hospital nearby), the construction worker would have been... billed? for both the emergency helicopter and hospital care?

A lawyer would know more, and this is one of those things that would result in big expensive lawsuits. But just from a layman's glancing around...

IF everything was above-board and legal -- and that is by no means assured in the construction industry -- then the first people to get billed would probably be the "workman's compensation" insurance of the worker's employer. But just because the heart attack happened at work doesn't mean it happened because of work, and workman's comp is only for injuries caused by work. So the insurance company and/or the employer are going to try to show that the worker was going to have this heart attack anyway, and they're not responsible.

THEN they'd bill the worker's own health insurance, if he had any (and the odds here are not great because a fair number of people in construction are Mexican citizens working illegally, which makes things like that hard). Depending on how close the hospital is, there's some chance the insurance company would claim that the medevac flight was not medically necessary and refuse to pay for it, at which point it's around $15,000 of the worker's problem.

If he didn't have health insurance, he would probably still get medevaced to the hospital. And the hospital would have to stabilize him, but that's it. So he'd get whatever immediate emergency drugs and other necessary emergency room care, but he wouldn't get a stent or anything like that so he'd probably die soon. He would get billed for the flight and the emergency room care, and would probably have to declare bankruptcy to get out of whatever debt was left over after whatever assets he had were stripped.

Make no mistake: the American health care system really and truly does let people die because they can't pay. It's not a joke, it's not something where everyone really gets taken care of some other way. There's no wink and nod. Every day, real live human beings die because they're sick, in the US, and don't have medical insurance. It is brutal and terrifying.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:20 PM on July 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: “Make no mistake: the American health care system really and truly does let people die because they can't pay. ”
For the last hour I've looked for but could not find a post of an article which tells the story of a man who asks to be left to die of a heart attack in his yard rather than get taken to the hospital so that his family wouldn't be bankrupted by the expense. I did find a couple of similarly depressing posts.

“Texas' Other Death Penalty,” AceRock, 16 November 2013

“The care of ~11 million people in America has fallen to emergency rooms.” divined by radio, 12 January 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 11:47 PM on July 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone for the patience in replying to my question. I swear I wasn’t being deliberately obtuse or trying to be deliberately optimistic, but my error here is probably that – in thinking specifically of emergency services, not medical or hospital treatment in general, but ambulances (and ok, in the example mentioned, helicopters in the mountains) – I’m thinking in terms of the public/private dichotomy in a way I’m familiar with, which is probably not the one at play here.

Emergency services specifically are the area puzzling me, not medical treatment in general...

So basically you’re telling me in the US there is no ambulance service for everyone? from a public hospital? ie. funded by the state, as a public service, like the police and firefighters? and it all entirely depends on the insurance of the beneficiary of said rescue/emergency services?

And wait, no, now you tell me even firefighters are subject to this insanity? And they don’t go rescue people because... insurance?
posted by bitteschoen at 8:20 AM on July 29, 2015


And octothorpe – believe me, I get it that "hospitals aren't generally in the business of giving away care for free", but, see, I can assure you they don’t do that for free where I come from either, my friend’s dad had paid a shitload of taxes all his life to fund public services like that, and when he needed it, that’s when he got back his "investment". (May we never need that kind of return on investment!) My dad has has a few major surgeries, with at least two-three weeks in hospital each, with top surgeons in that field, in state hospitals in northern Italy where general healthcare is rather good, and of course he didn’t have to pay a single extra for that because as a pensioner he and his former employers paid his contributions to the health system all his life when he was working. But again I’m more curious about super-emergency situations here really. I guess it’s true that there is no "cannot" there, only "is/should" on some level... but to me, there is a very clear "doesn’t make any sense also in logic/economic terms". If people keep coming back to the ER with the same issues, then that’s wasting your time and money more than providing a proper basic service to start with.
posted by bitteschoen at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2015


If he didn't have health insurance, he would probably still get medevaced to the hospital. And the hospital would have to stabilize him, but that's it. So he'd get whatever immediate emergency drugs and other necessary emergency room care, but he wouldn't get a stent or anything like that so he'd probably die soon. He would get billed for the flight and the emergency room care, and would probably have to declare bankruptcy to get out of whatever debt was left over after whatever assets he had were stripped.

Oh, ok, I get it. Wow. Thank you ROU_Xenophobe. I can’t even mentally process that but thanks for the clarifications of all the details. Wow!
posted by bitteschoen at 8:27 AM on July 29, 2015


IIRC, in the not too distant a Canadian woman was horribly mauled by a bear and they had to airlift her to the nearest hospital to treat her. Health coverage paid for most of it, but it would not pay for the actual medical helicopter use, so they billed her for it.

Ah, here we go, this is what I was talking about.
posted by Kitteh at 8:43 AM on July 29, 2015


Further to bitteschoen; while I think the case of ambulances just aimlessly driving until you die may be anecdotal (mind you, I don't doubt it does happen, it just may be an edge case) there are plenty of other weird byzantine little things that the US health service can do to you.

For example:

Even if you do have insurance, there's a further thing to consider called "the network". This "network" is a short list of preferred service providers that each insurance company has relationships with, and therefor wants you to work with: for example, Cuddly-Bear insurance company has an agreement with Dr. Bob, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Jones, but they don't have an agreement with Dr. White. So, if my doctor is Dr. White, but my insurance company is Cuddly-Bear, Dr. White is considered "out of my network" and I am charged more to see Dr. White (that is, unless I've purchased the kind of insurance plan that lets me go out of the network, but such a plan is more expensive in the first place).

And it's not just doctors that are in a given network - hospitals themselves can be in a network as well. People who were brought to emergency rooms used to be confronted by that after the fact - if they were in an accident and were brought to the nearest hospital, but the hospital they happened to go to was out of their insurance company's network, either they had to pay hefty fees or pay the entire cost out of their own pocket. There actually had to be a law passed to compel insurance companies to waive that rule if the person was unconscious at the time they were brought to the emergency room (on the grounds that "if you're unconscious and someone brings you to a hospital that's not in your network, you didn't have the chance to tell them otherwise, so it's not your fault").

And I have a personal anecdote that proves that even if you do make every effort to stay in your network, there are still yet more surprises - I broke my foot four years ago, and fortunately I had a rather good insurance plan through my job, one which let me keep the doctor I've had for several years and like very much. When she gave me a referral to an orthopedist, she made sure that she found an orthopedist who was in my insurance company network. And that orthopedist made sure that he gave me the address for his location that was also in my network.

So my regular doctor, my orthopedist, and the hospital I went to were all in my network. I made sure of that. So I should have been all set, right?

Nope. When my orthopedist's assistant was giving me my boot cast, she told me she had checked my insurance - and she found that the company that made the cast she was giving me was not in my insurance network, and therefore I was going to be subject to those out-of-network fees. Fortunately, they thought this was as ridiculous as I did, so they offered to instead claim on paper that I had no insurance, because then the cast makers' "hardship plan" would kick in and I would get it for a much cheaper price.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on July 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


And that orthopedist made sure that he gave me the address for his location that was also in my network.

Oh, gods, this fucking thing. Yes, for anyone who's wondering, you can see the same doctor in two different offices, each of which has that doctor's name on the fucking door, and one visit might not be in your network.
posted by Etrigan at 9:38 AM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


So basically you’re telling me in the US there is no ambulance service for everyone? from a public hospital? ie. funded by the state, as a public service, like the police and firefighters? and it all entirely depends on the insurance of the beneficiary of said rescue/emergency services?

And wait, no, now you tell me even firefighters are subject to this insanity? And they don’t go rescue people because... insurance?


Ambulances usually aren't owned by the government and their employees are not government employees, just like the rest of the healthcare system. You call 911 (public service) and they dispatch an ambulance to you no questions asked. From the perspective of a user it's not completely insane, it works just like you would expect an ambulance to work, until you get the multi-thousand-dollar bill.

Firefighters, and their engines and equipment, typically are provided by the (local) government, and their services are free, except in a few (mainly rural) communities that have this bizarre archaic system where you have to pay a fee to subscribe to a firefighting service. And most people aren't aware of these communities, it's really shocking to find out about.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:40 AM on July 29, 2015


And wait, no, now you tell me even firefighters are subject to this insanity? And they don’t go rescue people because... insurance?

I recall from a discussion of that linked case (not here) that firefighters will still do what must be done to rescue people, but they won't put out the fire once everyone's out. But frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if that weren't the case.
posted by Etrigan at 9:47 AM on July 29, 2015


Live on one of Hong Kong's outlying islands and find yourself in a life-threatening situation? That island's government-run, tax-payer funded "cottage hospital" phones for a government-run, tax-payer funded helicopter and they do a medivac to a government-run, tax-payer funded public hospital in Hong Kong. No charge. The Hong Kong taxpayer picks up the bill. For the chopper. And almost all the ensuing healthcare costs.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:53 AM on July 29, 2015


Oh, and another thing about USA insurance!

There's also something called the "deductible"; that is some dollar amount your insurance company sets for you, which changes depending on which particular plan you have, for which you have to pay out of pocket FIRST before the insurance company even begins paying.

Meaning: say I have a $2,000 deductible on my insurance. Now say I accidentally cut myself on a knife and have to go get a couple of stitches. The bill is $1,000. Now - if I haven't had any other health-related incidents yet that year, that means that I haven't reached that $2,000 deductible yet, so that $1,000 bill is almost entirely my responsibility.

This matters because sometimes some people take the gamble of getting an insurance plan that has a really high deductible, because those plans are cheaper ($400 a month for something with a low deductible, vs. $200 a month for something with a high deductible, say - I pulled those figures out of my ass, by the way). And so therefore, the people who are going for those plans are probably doing so to save money because they don't have a lot. So if you're someone who's already on shaky financial ground, and then you have a big medical expense on top of that and you're below your deductible so you have to pay it all yourself, then....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:14 PM on July 29, 2015


It sounds less like a health care system and more like a health care chaos.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:24 PM on July 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well… yes. That is the main reason why anyone with any familiarity with a non-absurdly-broken healthcare system has just piles and piles of criticisms of the American healthcare situation.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:48 PM on July 29, 2015


But yet Americans of every stripe will passionately tell you how it is the best health care system in the world. The marketing part works well anyhow...
posted by frumiousb at 3:19 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


I earnestly wonder if it's just Stockholm syndrome at times
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:36 AM on July 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


That can't be right. Sweden has sane health policy.
posted by flabdablet at 6:46 AM on July 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


But yet Americans of every stripe will passionately tell you how it is the best health care system in the world.

Oh, the health care itself is quite good.

It's the system that people use to access and pay for that care that's fucked in the ear.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 AM on July 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


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