It's Friday as I write this, and as usual, I'm ambivalent about my supposed two days of rest. I can't summon much enthusiasm because for more than a decade, my weekends haven't really been mine; surely, many of you can relate.
Nowadays work follows us everywhere, especially our Saturdays and Sundays, via wonderful enabling technologies that let bosses know where we are and when we're there, so they can email us at 10 p.m. on a Friday with the expectation of answers/results by 8 a.m. Saturday. It's become the new American way, and we've accepted it as an inevitable part of the next-gen rat race.
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It doesn't have to be like that. Other countries don't subscribe to it -- France, for example. Sure, they're a little annoying when you interact with them in any way whatsoever, and that Maginot line thing made them look dumber than a bowl of breakfast cereal, but you gotta admit they know how to make great food, probably because they have so many free hours in which to cook it.
You see, France has a legally mandated 35-hour workweek. This may explain why they're not a superpower in anything except arrogance and pâté, but hey, they don't seem to care and it gives them ample opportunity to chug excellent wine, look down on Americans, and make crêpes. They get a government-enforced 11 hours of "rest" every day. We get government-enforced invasion of privacy and a business culture that questions our loyalty if we take more than 11 hours off a week.
Liberté, égalité, et le weekend
Now France has taken another step toward having an actual weekend: a deal between business groups and unions that prohibits business managers to send, check, or even be pressured to look in on their email after business hours. Lower-level employees still need to keep up on their email after 5, but if your boss can't send that "I need this for the meeting at 6 a.m." missive at 11 p.m., that's not such a big burden. I like capitalism, but that makes me jealous as hell.
The French have taken to the concept like war-losing ducks to water, but I think Americans would have a hard time handling it. I understand that many Amazon, Google, and Microsoft employees stationed in France have been left stumbling down the Champs-Élysées after 5 p.m. like zombies looking for brains. The rest lie in bed, covered in cold sweat, shaking and screaming while suffering through digital withdrawal because France cut their Net-bilical cord.