(Most read article in the 6-year history of my blog)
Reflect for a moment on the meaning of work in different cultures and please join the discussion around the closing questions. Remember that within each culture there are exceptions to the general rule.
Also, if you have a different opinion to the one I expressed I would love to hear your point of view.
Work in the USA
At your typical social occasion in the USA what is one of the first questions people ask you? Is it not “What do you do?” Have you thought for a moment why that is so? Why is it so important for others to know what job you have?
The answer to this question is at the heart of the culture of work in the United States.
“What do you do?” is really tantamount to asking, “What is your purpose? What is your identity?” “How important are you?” By the same token, if you are doing nothing or are unemployed you are nothing.
In addition, the position one has and the money one earns is a measure of how important one is. Money is a scorecard. I distinctly remember two people asking me in recent years“How much do you earn?” They did not want the total of my actual salary. They were just looking for a benchmark to see how we stacked up against each other in terms of importance and the pecking order of life.
Meaning of Work in the USA: Identity/Importance
Work in Mexico
In Mexico (where we lived for 7 years), work is the means by which a person helps his or her family to get ahead; Mexicans work to advance the education of their children, advance their collective national aspirations, and above all to have time for their family and friends.
Work has such family implications to a Mexican that he/she expects the workplace to have a home-like atmosphere.
To many Mexicans more (time or money) is not better when it comes to working. On a recent visit to our Mexican doctor he decided to do our lab tests right there in his office. He said, “If I send them down the street to the lab I will have to wait until 3pm for the results. By that time I want to be home with my family”.
In Mexico when it comes to money, enough is more than enough. Recently I read of an international company that purchased a Mexican business. Before the acquisition the annual profits of the Mexican enterprise were $40 million. The new international board of directors now set the annual goal for the group as $70 million. The Mexicans leaders did not respond enthusiastically to this new goal. To them $40 million annual profit was quite enough.
(Comment: I was informed that this verdict about the place of work in the lives of Mexicans does not apply in all cases like in the industrialized Northern area of the country)
Meaning of Work in Mexico: For the family: With my family
Work in France
“In France, work takes a backseat to the pursuit of pleasure. If a job isn’t entertaining, most French workers would prefer unemployment” – French Psychiatrist Clotaire Rapaille
In France work is valued for the pleasure it provides the individual both in and out of the workplace. The French don’t see any point in spending 12 hours/day at the office; they will tell you that after six hours, you become increasingly unproductive. So, from the French point of view, why not focus on being highly productive for six hours and spend the rest of the time doing all the other things you enjoy? Some of the most emotional strikes occur when the government tries to institute longer working days. And then for the French there are the 6-week annual vacations (versus 2 weeks in the USA).
Meaning of Work in France: For Pleasure and Only Pleasure
Question for Discussion
What is the meaning of work in your culture?
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