I worked in Europe as an ex-pat for nearly ten years. One of many differences between Europeans and Americans is their vacation or holiday preferences, as the Europeans describe their time off from work or school. Most Europeans take their extended holidays during July and August, then return to work and school in early September. Europeans normally have more paid leave than Americans, typically a minimum of 20 workdays a year that normally increases to 30+ workdays. For example, my wife worked in the Netherlands and received 39 leave days per year. As an ex-pat in Europe, I received 30 days of paid time off plus two days of travel time to return to the United States each year. Before departing for Europe, my US vacation time was 20 days after ten years of employment, increasing to 25 days after twenty years of employment. Living in Europe had some additional benefits.
Northern Europe is typically cold, wet, and dreary from mid-autumn to mid-spring. When the first warm spring day occurs, Europeans burst outdoors. I remember walking outside my London office during lunchtime on a sunny spring day and seeing the Embankment gardens crowded with workers throwing off their business clothes and catching the few rays of available sun. As a Texan, this thirst for sunlight seemed so strange to me, coming from a region where warmth is plentiful.
European schools typically hold classes until July and resume classes in early September. For around seven weeks, northern European families travel primarily to warm regions to bake in the sun. Airports are packed with passengers heading south for their annual holiday. Their fair Caucasian skin, devoid of sun, will get blistered red like a lobster boiled in water on southern Europe beaches. Small beach villages are overrun with holiday visitors in search of warmth, good food, and alcohol. I remember visiting a Portuguese atlantic seaside town during late-April and learned that their population swelled from 5,000 residents to over 100,000 during July and August. This is not my idea of a good way to spend summer. I decided to work during August while many of my colleagues went on holiday.
During summer, London was a holiday for me. The weather, until recently, was mild and comfortable. Instead of sweltering in the Texas heat, I walked to work without a jacket or tie. We lived without air conditioning and occasionally used an electric fan. Evening and morning temperatures fell into the 60’s or cooler, which made for comfortable sleeping. Our windows were open allowing fresh air into our small flat. Weekend walks, countryside excursions, and al fresco evening dining were delightful as the daylight extended into the late evening.
The office was quiet since my manager was typically on holiday, along with many of my colleagues. He usually delegated his authority to me, but few issues arose since many European traders were also on holiday, thus quieting the financial markets. I was able to catch up on projects, complete personnel records, and work regular business hours. My travel schedule decreased since few clients worked and few scheduled visits to my office. I liked working in August and others were happy for me to stay in London while they were enjoying their holidays.
The downside to working in August was that once August was over and my colleagues returned to the office, my workload greatly increased, and it became difficult to schedule my holiday until Christmas. I enjoyed taking a week off during late September or early October. The weather and sunlight were still good enough to enjoy Europe, the crowds were gone, and the prices lower. The upsetting part was that when I requested taking my holiday, my manager seemed to forget that I worked during August and looked surprised when I requested my holiday, saying, “Holiday again?” Being British, he was in ‘European-mode’ while I lived in ‘American-mode.’
September and October were spent preparing next year’s budget while November and December were intense making sure our year-end performance targets were achieved. Inevitably, I worked even if I was away from the office on holiday. Working in Europe during August meant not being able to take all of my European leave days. When I retired, my company paid me for my unused leave days.
As I am now retired, every day is a holiday, so I can leisurely reflect on spending August in London. Americans spend large sums of money traveling to London for their vacations. They are intrigued by the British culture, historical sights, and cooler climate. However, I was paid to spend my summers in London. I did not have to book hotels, transportation, or restaurants. I could relax in my own home, travel to lessor known venues, and stroll the parks during quieter evenings. I was able to book good seats at the summer outdoor theatres and enjoy outdoor cafes not frequented by tourists. I witnessed London in all its summer glory, something few Americans have experienced. For this, I am deeply grateful. My August holiday was not going on holiday.