Illustration ©Donovan O'Malley
This is the season when Swedes have absolutely no problem finding a general subject to bring up at the workplace. The subject: Vacation. People who usually say nothing to one another will happily ask the other person if they have had any vacation yet and/or when they intend to take it.
When they get the answer they don't listen. It's just a ritual. But the ritual also requires that you, who asked the question, relate your own vacation plans. Rather like when you ask how someone is. You do not expect a detailed health history.
Swedes don't think they have enough vacation and would love to have more. Those five wonderful weeks (mandatory by law) go so fast. Swedes have the right to have at least three of those five weeks consecutively during summer. Compared to Americans who get usually a total of two weeks all year if they are lucky, Swedes are fortunate indeed. But those five weeks are equally beneficial for their employer. Employees come back with their batteries charged and work better than ever.
On the radio, they discuss whether one should take the entire vacation in one go, or divide it up and what is best for you. Everyone agrees that you absolutely need your vacation or your health is sure to suffer. Swedes often get extremely surprised to hear that Americans have only two weeks vacation or none at all.
Other benefits for Swedes: The religious holidays. Swedes are not at all religious (religion would never be brought up in political situations), but they love being off work on those religious holidays. Swedes have at least 6 more days off than Americans do. And Americans are generally the more religious. No logic here?
Two friends from California, visited Sweden a few years ago and their first impression was that people seemed so relaxed and unstressed. They loved seeing fathers on paternity leave taking care of their children.
These American friends said that people in California worried about not having or losing health-insurance, losing their job, or not having one. Interesting observation. Maybe we Swedes should count our blessings and stop fretting about not having enough vacation days.