Having worked and done internships in both the USA as well as in Germany over the past few years, I’ve noticed some major and minor differences in the way that we conduct business, both at a company level as well as a national level.
The average work day:
One great thing about my time spent working in the USA is that, more often than not, my schedule has been quite flexible. While I’m sure some of this is due to the nature of my work, I can’t help but feel that there’s a cultural aspect to it as well. In previous decades, working 9-5 was deemed to be the average workday, though it seems now many people work later, work on weekends, work virtually or take their work home with them.
I bring this point us because it stands in stark contrast to the way my work day was when I worked in Germany. I would typically always take the same morning bus to work and the same afternoon bus home, and thus my workday was almost exactly 8 hours from 9 to 5. Few people work later than 6 and apparently it is a sin to work on weekends (especially Sunday). I think there’s also a bit more of a separation-of-work-and-home mentality in Germany as well. I remember speaking with a coworker of mine one day, and asked him that, since he had so much work to do, if he would be working from home that evening. He told me “What, are you insane? You don’t take work home with you! If people started doing that, it would ruin their personal lives. The office is for work, home is for my personal life.” I personally found this to be quite striking, given how common it is for many Americans to stay involved with their work even off the clock.
Anyone seeking an internship anywhere in the world right now can expect very little, if any, compensation (other than experience of course). I was one of the lucky few with an internship that covered my costs of living. Both in the USA and Germany, my internships paid a reasonable sum that helped cover my living expenses, as well as a little extra for travel on the weekends. The difference, however, was in vacation time.
Any intern in America is insane if they think they’ll get paid vacation time for working for a company for 3-4 months. Most full-time employees are lucky if they can even get 3 weeks. That is why I found it interesting that, while interning in Germany, my supervisor came to me one day and told me that I was to receive the equivalent of the standard 6 weeks of paid vacation (7.5 days for 3 months). One wonders how the German firms can give so much vacation time and still stay in business, but I suppose the short answer is: everyone is doing it. If every company in your industry offers 6 weeks of vacation per year, it no longer becomes a competitive advantage/disadvantage, it’s simply the culture of the industry.