Broadly speaking there are two very different stereotypes of Europeans. On the one hand, there is your Southern European with their relaxed view of life, best demonstrated by the Spanish 'Manana, manana' (tomorrow, tomorrow) mentality. The laid-back sorts, who would rather take a siesta or sit around drinking wine, than make any effort at actually doing their job. On the other hand, in complete contrast you have the Northern Europeans, dedicated to an earnest humourless life of efficiently and hard work. Of the two stereotypes I had always assumed Sweden would fit closer to the later rather than the former.
But since gaining employment here six weeks ago, I’ve been forced to radicaly revaluate this perception. Swedes actually share more with the laid-back Italians than the industrious Germans. At risk of sounding like a right-wing radio shock jock, there must be something about a strong welfare state that makes people lazy.
The past fortnight has been a busy one, seeing me transferred to three different sites. As stated in my last blog entry, I was first sent to The Avenue. However after a few days I was sent to a site in Onsala (a very posh part of town near the beach), and then only a day later to my current site, Vasastaden. After my first site in Hammarkullen I was already under the impression Swedes didn’t work very hard. But from each of these proceeding sites, I’ve only had this suspicion confirmed.
When getting a lift to Onsala, Marco (the other guy working there) intentionally took the back roads rather than the quicker, more-direct route via the highway. By the time we got there, it was nearly time for our first break. “Look, it’s Friday,” Marco told me as way of justification, “It’s been a long week, so I think we should just take it easy today.” Just as we were due for our lunch break, Marco than says, “Would it be okay with you if we left early today, and just didn’t tell anyone.” We agreed to work another hour, before leaving and signing off on eight hours anyway. “It’s Friday!”, claimed Marco.
I was supposed to be in Onsala for a week, but on Monday I was transferred to another site in Vasastaden, back in the city centre. There is only one other person working there, Peter. He immediately started the day by complaining about how much work needed to be done, and how little time we had. He then told me he had to get rid of the last person because he didn’t do any work. Initially I wished I were back in Onsala, anticipating four weeks of high-pressure backbreaking labour. But I needn’t. If Marco knew how to slack off and cut corners, Peter takes it to a whole new level. Despite all his complaining about workloads and deadlines, he works with absolutely no sense of urgency. Even when he moves, he doesn’t so much walk, but reluctantly inch forward. Some of the guys I worked with in Hammarkullen and The Avenue liked to push the limits by slyly extend their breaks by 5-10 minutes. This is kid’s stuff for Peter, who likes to take an extra 15-20 minutes. We spend nearly as much time in the barracks drinking coffee than we do on the actual construction site.
Last Wednesday was a public holiday for Sweden’s National Day. (I should point out that this is the third public holiday we’ve had in the six weeks I’ve been working. And we’re due another two, Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer’s Day, in two weeks time.) To mark the occasion, on Tuesday Peter decided we should just go home at lunchtime.
This isn’t just something that is epidemic in the construction industry either. One of my teammates at the Berserkers works at a furniture removalist, and regularly talks of 30-minute jobs being extended into a whole 8-hour shift. Ankie also has friends who complain about being ‘stressed’ and ‘exhausted’ having worked a 40-hour week.
The best part of this leisurely working culture is that it is easy to impress employers. Anyone who can turn up and complete a minimum workload within reasonable time wins Employee of the Month. But it makes me wonder about the people who get sacked. This is the second time now I’ve been brought in to replace a sacked employee. If even someone as lazy as Peter gets rid of you on the premise you’re not pulling your weight, you must be as lazier than Jabba the Hutt!