I thought I would reflect today on some more cultural differences between the US and France, specifically the European vs the American Dream. For one of my classes we’re reading a book about the European Dream, and while I don’t entirely agree with the author, some of his observations are interesting. My opinions are drawn partly from this book and partly from what I’ve noticed so far.
We all are familiar with the American Dream, which is tied to the idea of Protestant work ethic. As long as you work as hard as you can, your efforts will pay off and you will achieve your goals. Typically Americans are driven to excel and perform to the best of their abilities because we often derive a sense of self-worth from our work and our achievements. This idea can be both good and bad, depending on how you look at it. I think it’s good to have goals and to work towards them, but I also find that Americans often judge each other by their success. It’s not enough sometimes to have a decent job, a caring support network, and a happy life if you don’t have any shining successes.
Europe takes a much different approach. Europeans are much less driven by personal success and are more focused on quality of life and enjoyment. Europeans work hard at their jobs in order to make money, but that’s about it. They don’t get the same satisfaction from working that many Americans do, because they don’t rely on success for their sense of accomplishment. Instead Europeans focus on having better relationships outside of work, friends to rely on, and time to relax and enjoy themselves outside the office. There isn’t the same sense of competition that Americans thrive on. The French aren’t constantly fighting their way to the top since they are more socialistic and it doesn’t make sense to earn as much money as you can simply for the sake of earning money, since taxes basically put everyone on a level playing field. The French enjoy more social benefits from their high taxes and therefore don’t need to fight to earn enough money to survive. France adopted the 35 hour work week since the French want to better enjoy their personal lives, not their work ones.
I respect this way of life. I think it’s important to have a job that you like, but I don’t think your sense of self and your happiness as a person should be determined by your job and the success you achieve. I want to one day earn enough money to live comfortably, but I think building close, personal relationships and happiness are more important than economic success.
The main thing that I struggle to accept about the European Dream is that children aren’t necessarily taught that they can be anything. I was taught that if I work hard enough in life, I can accomplish anything that I want. As a whole, Americans are very optimistic, adventurous people. Europeans generally are much more pessimistic. They are more afraid to take risks; our book, for example, said that there are many more small businesses in America because people aren’t afraid to go out on a limb and risk failure, whereas in Europe, there are fewer small businesses because people are less optimistic and more afraid of failing. As children, Europeans are not taught to reach for high goals like we are. They are taught to accept the middle ground because that is all that they will achieve in life. As I said before, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being in the middle, I just find it interesting that Europeans are not encouraged to ever dream of doing more or following their dreams.
Those are my musings for the evening. Any thoughts or reactions? Feel free to share!