Nein to Five

By Miles Leicher

In the aftermath of the earthquake that recently shook the East Coast, one thing is abundantly clear: there’s nothing Californians love more than heckling lesser quakes. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for thousands of people pouring out of office buildings after the tremor. Not because they were scared (Come on, you pansies – we have WAY bigger quakes out here in LA), but because they had been inside working. Stuck in their cubicles while Congress, President Obama, myself and, I’m assuming, Shakira are all on vacation. Those hips don’t lie.

It’s no secret that Americans suck at taking time off. With no federal law mandating paid leave, the closest most Americans come to escaping reality is listening to a Michele Bachmann speech. Studies have shown that even those who are allotted vacation time – usually about two weeks – are often too busy to take advantage of it, or wind up working from the road. In the meantime, other countries have far surpassed us in the holiday department (hint: they’re the ones that always kick our ass in those “happiness indexes”). All members of the European Union, for example, require workers to take at least 20 paid vacation days per year, not including public holidays (and they get Assumption Day!). Heck, Germans take a whole month off, which they use to travel the world and proselytize Speedo usage. If you think it’s tough to find a bathroom over there, try looking for a tan line.

What we ought to be doing is pressing for a cultural change in the way we view vacation time. As much as we stress about losing productivity, the fact is that people who don’t take time off wind up becoming burnt out and less productive in the long run. The exception, of course, being Ryan Seacrest. Dude never sleeps. 

Yet, instead of asking our representatives in government to step up and do something, we seem to prefer waiting until they take their vacations, and then shitting on them. The brunt of this is usually reserved for the President, who can count on catching flack whenever he leaves the White House for anything other than a tour of some stupid battery plant in Wichita. And it usually goes something like, “I don’t have a problem with him taking a vacation, but does he have to do it somewhere so nice while the country is suffering?” Touché. Nothing would instill confidence in the markets like watching the first family check into a Motel 6.

Just as it’s tradition for the critics to complain about such trips, it is also tradition for presidents to ignore them. Because no matter what, haters gonna hate. According to CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, President Clinton took 21 days “off” in his first year of office, Reagan had 42, Dubya 69 and Obama 26. And if that doesn’t make you wish you’d been able to spend more time at the Holy Land Experience in Florida, I don’t know what will.

But instead of begrudging those guys their time away from the office, put some of that effort into securing a little more time out for yourself. That way, when the next earthquake rocks your office building, maybe you won’t be there – you’ll be in LA, telling everyone they don’t know what it means to be cold.