Work Ethic

Everyone always lauds Asians for their amazing work ethic.  Westerners don’t get it, and are always surprised to hear I spent four/five hours a night on homework in high school, going, ‘oh my god how did you even put up with it?’

Err… it’s called working hard. Some colleagues of mine over the years spend at least an hour a day doing personal stuff on their work computer, be it looking at dream holidays or googling silly questions, there’s a sense of entitlement to relax, to take a break.  And hey, I love checking Facebook as much as the next person.  But company time is company time, not for me to stalk my celebrity crush.  How is it so different?

Mostly, I believe, it comes from the government.  I know, what a surprise, right?  Hah.  In most Asian countries, you either get little, or no pension at all.  You have to work ridiculous hours to make ends meet, and to save for retirement.  That’s also why families tend to stay living together: when sons marry, they stay living at home and bring money home, while his children are taken care of by his retired parents.  It saves on childcare, saves on having to buy a house, so that’s a lot of savings/pension for the parents already.  That’s why there’s such an emphasis on having boys- boys stay home to take care of you, girls marry off into their husband’s home to take care of her new parents.  And let’s not even restrict this to Asia.  Eastern Europe isn’t synonymous with pension, either.  Saving for the future is ingrained in these people because they have no other option but to look out for themselves.

Oma has a very healthy pension.  She can afford a nice apartment in an assisted-living facility, she buys what she fancies, and always has presents for everyone.  She could even afford living away from home half a year while she visited us in Taiwan, all the while paying for dinners, shopping sprees, etc.  We don’t have to worry about her.  And yes, there are a lot of older people worse off than her even in her assisted living facility, but let me give you this one:  average state pension is £80 a month in Taiwan.  That’s … well, nothing, even taking standard of living into account.

Western Europe, on the other hand, can/could (depends on a lot of factors, I’m generalising) depend on a liveable pension, with a bit of topping up from family as well, perhaps.  There are benefits for single parents, for people with disabilities, all these things that I’m sure sometimes get taken for granted, but are actually vital to the working culture of a nation.

And look at America.  Most companies don’t give them paid holidays, and they work on average something like a third longer than we do in Europe (I don’t actually have facts to back it up but I’m sure you can find it somewhere, I’m going off hearsay, so probably best to refer yourself to this).  Their social security isn’t very secure, which is why so many of them are working ridiculously hard, and buying into private pension schemes that blew up in the 08 crash.

I’m not trying to tell anyone what is better, but I think it’s worth stepping outside the box and appreciating what we have, be it a dependable pension or a near-super-human will to survive by working long hours to save for your own pension.

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