Pinching Ideas from Across the Pond

I just returned from several glorious weeks of travel throughout Europe. Like all experiences, I want to observe and assess what I might learn, share and use to enhance my own life and further my insight. Below are a few lessons I gleaned from our jovial kin across the pond.

1. Service is a profession. In Europe, waiters and waitresses, hotel service clerks, concierges, cooks, taxicab drivers, etc., are performed by mature men and women who see their jobs as professions—professions they have enjoyed and sustained for decades and look forward to continuing for decades to come.

In America, most of these positions are perceived as demeaning and possessing little value. They’re usually held by high-school or college students or low-wage immigrants. I think the difference stems from a social attitude. Europeans consider a service position more respectable than Americans. Thus, they pursue it as a career and find satisfaction in their work.

Furthermore, the organizations they work for also respect their positions and compensate their employees accordingly. As a result, this diminishes the high volume of turnover, significantly reduces costs (hiring, training, administration), and allows European organizations to maintain a consistency of service, operational efficiency and financial stability.

Lesson: Treat your service positions as professional opportunities forprospective employees. Create career opportunities with long-term benefits and satisfactory compensation. After all, these employees will be the front line of your business. Cultivating dedicated, loyal and skilled professionals in these positions could give you an incredibly unique advantage—that is, in the American market!

2. Work to live. There is a much different attitude, outlook and expectation about work in Europe than I believe we have here in America. Many of us tend to “live to work” instead of the other way around. We are defined by what we do and achieve, rather than by what we experience or share. Once again, the cultural attitude is entirely different. In Europe, you are not expected to be reachable during nonworking hours or during holiday (vacation). Thus, they don’t have the same “guilt” pangs we might experience when we aren’t working. As I have written many times before, culturally, we have nearly obliterated the line between work and personal life in America. The result has caused burnout, reduced productivity, diminished creativity, destroyed relationships, and induced stress or stress-related ailments, such as depression, heart disease and stomach ulcers, reaching record levels.

Lesson: Since work expectations have become a bit perverse here in America, we need to proactively manage our work-life boundaries. As an employer, you should not only recognize and respect these boundaries, but you should help your employees establish and honor them as well. The ultimate result is better and greater productivity—and a much more sane and satisfying life.

3. Homage to the “old.” More important than Europe’s monopoly on “old” things is the reverence and respect it has for them. The European desire to preserve for posterity their emblems of the past far exceeds ours. Our attitude in America is one that regards the old as far more disposable—be it culture or community—than what I observed abroad. When something becomes old or tired, we tear it down and build something new. We tend to build using materials with short expiration dates. However, Europeans continue to build with stone. They lay down new cobblestone sidewalks with painstaking care. Meanwhile, we take the shortcut using stucco and pouring asphalt. Mind you, Europeans are no less modern or contemporary. Walk into any of those old stone buildings, and the interiors are designed and modernized with technologies and innovations that still remain to be seen in the States.

Because they are surrounded by their history, I think Europeans gain a better understanding and wisdom about their past—and their future—than we do in the United States. Rather than building for speed or cost reduction, they build for posterity and with integrity, benefitting from durability, longevity and stability. These are handmade customs that would benefit us all.

Lesson: Refer to Jim Collins’ Built to Last

For those who have traveled to Europe, what were some observations you made that we could positively incorporate into our professional and personal lives? Please comment below.



12 responses to “Pinching Ideas from Across the Pond”

  1. Visited europe many times and look forward to.
    IN usa we live to work ,fast,and furious for what reason no body knows.
    they savour every thing from food to love making,and even working.
    i enjoy old buildings ,old people about and around in city walking .
    cafes,people watching, life is fruitful,complete,even if u are average person not necessarly rich,even with out a car ,i se people enjoy every day existence.
    here no body is happy,content,language is gross ,teens are out of control,food sucks,then why iam here ? because i am here .

  2. Excellent article. As a Canadian, I believe we have to treat every job as a career. We need all types of individuals with all different backgrounds, experiences and education to make a country function efficiently. Everyone has their place in the workforce and must be treated with respect.

  3. I absolutely love travelling in Europe – I find the atmosphere to be REAL.

    *People don’t RUSH to get to where they are going – except perhaps TOURISTS not wanting to miss out on anything – news flash to Tourists – whatever you are going to see has been there for a very long time and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so what is the RUSH?

    In my opinion – if you can afford to take the time to travel in Europe then you can take the time to be a way from your work guilt free. If you haven’t delagated your tasks (for while you are away) and you are continuously checking your email and checking in with work for updates – then you truly are missing out on the lifestyle Europe has to offer.
    Open your eyes and your self and enjoy life as it is meant to be lived – where ever you are (not just Europe or on Holidays)!

  4. I love the “service is a profession” take. I took a dish washing job for a short season a few years ago and loved it. It reminded me of the joy in serving others and pride in a job well done….something that gets lost when one lives in front of a glowing screen too much of the time.

    Simple….and something lost all too often in our crazy consumer driven culture.

    Your description of Europe reminds me of my time in Scotland and England. There is indeed much to appreciate there.

    Thanks for a great post!

  5. Right on, Darren! I travel to Europe (mainly France) every year. Frankly, it helps me to appreciate the U.S. a lot more. They have a different perspective on life and work. In addition to your observations, I also noted that meals are an event that are to be enjoyed. While lunch and dinner may last 2-3 hours, it is a time to socialize and enjoy friends and family. Food portions are more reasonable — no “Super Sizing.” Also, people generally do not snack between meals and they walk a lot. Until recently, you did not see too many fat people and it was rare to see someone eating while they were walking.

    I enjoy going to restaurants there. As you said, being a waiter is an honored profession and they take pride in doing an excellent job. They seek to make your dining experience a pleasant one. As for the pastries and chocolates ….

    [DARREN HARDY] This is definitely one of my other journal entry observations. Meal times are respected and are used to connect with people. You don’t see drive throughs, I think the idea of someone eating in their car or even walking around with a Big Gulp size coffee in their hand seems absurd to them. There is not only a lifestyle benefit to this philosophy and practice, but also a health one I believe.

  6. About clear boundaries between work and our other life – live ot work or work to live???

    It’s the same body, brain and soul whether we’re at work play or asleep and dreaming.

    The suggestion that we need clear boudaries suggests we are working to earn money, a not as desirable activity as living, spending money. That is where I think modern society is going wrong.

    It is possible to have work as fun and as fulfilling as the non work parts of our life.

    It’s about being present where ever we are. If we’re having dinner with our family, we’re relaxed and having fun and a thought comes to us about work … can we accept that it has arrived, process it, complete it for that moment and within a split second be back having fun with our family.

    Likewise, imagine having the space in our work to have a family thought in the middle of a meeting, accept that it has arrived, process it, complete it for that moment and then be back to the meeting in a split second.

    If we can do this we will probably have our most profitable thoughts whilst waiting for teh next race at our childs sports day.

    Never before has this been possible as it is now this PDAs etc. And the 3 A’s that Daniel Pink writes about. Automation, Asia, Abundance.

    ‘love to talk some more about this


  7. Right on, Darren! I do think we have became a society that allows business to keep in touch with us continually. It is amazing how many times buildings are torn down within 10 years to be replaced with the new, what kind of history are we going to have in architecture in the future?


  9. On the mark Darren! I just spent 4 weeks in Europe and loved it. I’ve been before and the biggest striking difference is the attitude of working to live. This attitude often follows me home for the short time but is challenging to maintain. Once again I will try. Note that this American challenge also extends to Canada as well. I truly believe fear is a major contributing factor – that we will fall behind. Of course the realty is the opposite.