August in the Netherlands

Subtitle: Am I the Only Person in This Whole Country Who’s Working??

One of the major differences between the U.S. and Europe, as many people are quick to point out, is the vacation policy. Europeans in general get a lot of vacation. They tend to stare with a combination of horror and bewilderment when you mention that most Americans get about 2 weeks of annual vacation.  For most of my Dutch colleagues, two weeks is the minimum amount of time required to start to relax. The idea of taking a 7 or even a 10 day vacation – especially if you need a day or two just to get where you’re going! – makes no sense to them at all.

Most of my colleagues are on holiday now. I get very little email; what I do get is most often an automated out of office reply. These tend to go something like this:

Dear colleague, I am out of the office on holiday until 30 August. Thank you.

No follow-up, no promised response date, no “if this is urgent please call…”. The first few I received were a little shocking. Surely people can’t be on holiday for that long? Three weeks? Sometimes longer? And with no one to back them up? Not even the empty promise of responding “as soon as possible”?

After a while, though, I got used to these curt messages. They are clear and no-nonsense. The person I’m trying to reach is away; best if I just note their return date and try again later. If the recipient is Dutch, I’m sure they simply read it, nod, and move on. I imagine that such a cut-and-dried out of office message must be liberating to write, especially compared to the notifications we use in the U.S.. My out of office messages in Boston included several email addresses for colleagues, the phone number for the reception desk, and the assurance that I would respond promptly upon my return to the office. Oh, and sometimes my mobile number.

Unfortunately, vacation-taking is one area in which we have been slow to adapt to the Dutch way of doing things. (Eating herring is another, but we’ll leave that for a later time…). We’re keeping most of our vacation time for our return trip to the U.S. for the holidays, and we’ve only planned a few short trips or long weekends over the next few months. The idea of a 3-week holiday just seems…un-American.

So for now, I’ll enjoy my quiet office, and my less-crowded city streets. With everyone in the south of France or Bali or Spain or wherever they are, life is a little easier for those of us who stay behind. Fewer commuters mean the morning ferry isn’t as terrifying as it usually is. And with fewer people in town, I can actually get a dinner reservation. On a Saturday night. At a place with a terrace. Which is where I’m off to now…

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One thought on “August in the Netherlands

  1. Pingback: Back to school | Terrifically Lost

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