I’ve Got Your Work-Life Balance Right Here

Yesterday evening I was in  my car again, for yet another chauffering run. As usual, I had the radio on.

I like to play this game I call ‘Let’s listen to the Dutch news station and see how many words you can understand.’

(Believe me, it’s waaaayyy more interesting to play this game than actually listen to the news in a language you can understand. And after many, many months of trying this ‘improve your Dutch by auditory osmosis’ approach, I really am understanding more and more. Certainly not everything, but more each time. But I digress.)

It was approximately 7 pm, and the newscaster was interviewing an expert on something about something happening related to his expertise. Sorry that I can’t be more precise than that, but despite listening raptly, I really wasn’t focusing on the words,

Instead, I was intently following the sounds of a child in the background. He or she sounded to be about 3 or 4, and was doing what all kids that age do: broadcasting their every thought, need, move as soon as it popped into their head.

The child wasn’t very loud, didn’t talk very often, and by the somewhat muffled sound of it, was in another room. But every few minutes you could distinctly hear an exclamation or running commentary or a call out to the parent(s).

And the funny thing? This wasn’t the first time I’ve encountered this. In fact, it’s probably been the fourth or fifth time.

How, you ask, does this happen?

Several reasons.

First, most Dutch adhere strongly to a ‘work while at work, don’t work when not at work’ concept. The average workweek is 38-40 hours as in many countries, but they resist (consciously and unconsciously) extending these hours for the sake of impressing their boss or ‘getting ahead.’ In fact, they tend to pity someone who works more hours as not being bright or organized enough to get their work done in a timely manner.

For most, the work day ends at 5pm, and dinner is promptly at 6pm. (The Dutch are nothing if not punctual!) They tend to be very family-oriented, seem to really enjoy their children, and think nothing of bringing them along as they run daily errands and go about their business.

It’s not unusual to see Dad (not just Mom) with a child or two in tow as they stop into the local Albert Heijn for some dinner items on their way home from work and picking up the kids.

The parents (and children) don’t look particularly stressed, either. They seem relaxed as they pick up their milk or dinner fixings. Work is done, no sense fretting or worrying about it. They seem to be what we Americans love to call ‘in the moment.’ They conduct their business efficiently and head home to enjoy their dinner and evening with the ones they love.

And if Mom or Dad happen to be an expert in some timely subject in the news? Well, they just take some time out to do the phone interview. Even if that’s in the evening after dinner, or during the day when they may be working at home and keeping an eye on smaller children.

It is what it is, and they get on with it. 

I find it fascinating from an intercultural perspective. I mean, you just wouldn’t hear a child’s voice during a US radio interview. Perhaps there’s all sorts of technical differences as to how radio interviews are conducted which eliminate the possibility of the ‘child in background’ scenario. Perhaps we like to think of ourselves as ‘too professional’ for this to occur.

But I’ll tell you this: I kind of like it, this gentle reminder that for many (most?) of us, juggling work/family/home/activities/health priorities is a constant balancing act.


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