It’s been about 2 months that I’ve started my new job – not to mention that I left 2 weeks on vacation at the end of August. It’s too soon to draw a conclusion about it, but I can start telling a few things about how it is to work in an American company, at least where I do work. As in Paris, I’m working in a publishing house, in a web team and I have to deal with things to “coordinate”. I won’t tell you details about this job in particular, just clichés that I used to have about the working life in the US, mine or those that friends told me in a dreadful tone: “How will you survive to that?!”
« People have a very positive attitude. »
True. It’s like in real life here: each time I say something people gave me a « awesome, great », which sounds very good for my ego, but sometimes I have doubts (do I really deserve that). It’s one of the main difference with living in Paris: people cheer you up all the time.
« You’ll spend your life in a cubicle. »
Very true! Let’s figure out a huge open space with square cubes to divide it, these particular standardized spaces with a brownish rug on the wall. Everything is meant to be rationalized, but they forgot 3 main things: natural light, nice colors, circulating air. I’ve tried to decorate it, I thought of bringing a plant, but I’m afraid it won’t survive. I put postcards on the wall, but it may reinforce the cell-look of the cube. Walls are not very high so you share your space with the guy who eat chips every day at 4.15, the girl who laugh too loud and the one who can’t speak quietly on the phone (me). And of course, I have to deal with the global fact that bothers every European in the USA: air conditioning. I’m wearing huge and ugly sweater to keep my body at a decent temperature.
« You’ll have a very busy schedule. »
Wrong. I’m working from 9 to 5 (I was working more from 9 to 7 at least in Paris). If I’m in my cube at 5:10, people are worried: “why are you still here”. The pitiless universe of American companies that we imagine is not true everywhere, and it’s possible to work 35 hours a week.
« You’ll have to get rid of coffee breaks… »
True, unfortunately. We have a shared kitchen, with a big fridge where everyone put its lunch bag, make a tea or coffee. But nobody stays here to talk. I was used to 2 coffee breaks a day, one on the morning and one after lunch, a good way to sympathize with colleagues or to gossip with friends.
« … and lunch breaks. »
Wrong, most of the time. I can have one hour lunch break, there’s even a big room to eat. I won’t say that it’s a cafeteria, because it’s just a big room with tables and chairs, and some Cokes vending machines. During nice days, we can stay outside on a deck. The problem is that I often have meetings around noon, so I have to eat in front on my computer. We work with people on the West Coast, with a different time. When it’s noon for us, it’s 9am for them, the perfect time to have a meeting. That’s something very new to me: big country, different times. But the main difference with France it’s not about the length of the lunch break, there’s this cliche about French people having 3 hours lunch break: it’s not true – at least not every day! But I was used to have lunch with a lot of colleagues, it was a fun and very relaxing time to spend together.
« American people are ahead in everything ».
TRUE. The tools we use to share documents or communicate are very handy. And about the content of the job itself, it seems to me that we don’t spend time to focus on debating about the future of the book (on my field, that would be one of the hot topic), we actually do things. It’s pretty impressing… I was more used to long debates, conferences about “if” we have to try this new thing, what about the traditional way… It’s vey invigorating.
« You’ll be super loaded ».
True and wrong. Incomes are higher than in France, but the cost of life is also higher. Benefits are inexistent in my contract (I was used to have so many in my previous job – not to mention the 9 weeks of vacation).
« You’ll live the American Dream! »
Working on it! It’s too soon to say anything… At first, I thought that the fact that I’m a foreigner, that I don’t speak a fluent English would be a handicap, specially in publishing. But nobody ever insisted on that fact (I’m the only one apologizing for my grammar mistakes). I feel very encouraged to do more, suggest ideas. I haven’t be here for a long time, but my job has already evolves in a way I really like.
This post is related to my own experience, and I know that it’s different for some of my expatriate friends. If you work abroad, what were the main differences you’ve experienced? What would be the other clichés you could have about American companies lifestyle?