Thursday and Friday at the School of Music, I suffered the death of a thousand pinpricks. Every five minutes, some new little thing came up. Sometimes, I found that by doing what I thought was the right thing, or by thinking ahead, or even by doing what someone had asked me to do, I actually just caused more trouble. I thought about giving an example, but the memories were too traumatic. In any case, I kept trying to clear the inbox and get a few quiet minutes free to get a Coke and start a new book, but that didn’t happen until late Friday afternoon.
Then, when I started reading the translator’s preface to Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, I read that Professor Weber discovered that the esteem of hard work and of putting work first comes late in history and only in certain corners of the world. I felt relief and frustration all at once to think that I had done all that work without a break only to have time to read that most people don’t feel any duty to work long hours without a break. I could only laugh at myself. A second irony: since the thousand pinpricks really had nothing to do with the three assignments of my job – preparing and teaching classes, research and writing, and a “fair share” of administrative service – did I really do it all out of a sense of the need to work?
The translator, Stephen Kalberg, reports that Europeans in general work two-thirds as many hours per year as Americans. Having just come back from an extended sojourn in Italy, Nancy and I guessed that the citizens of our home-away-from-home might work 40% of the hours that Americans do. They seem happy and friendly, and they have everything they want (which mostly seems to consist of clothes, food and wine, and a good train system). No one cares that the family businesses are closed from Christmas to February 15. I never saw anyone look at a locked shop door in frustration because the owner didn’t offer services before 3:00pm.
And yet the Italians still thank the Americans and British – we were there for Liberation Day when they do it – for fighting their way up the peninsula and driving the Fascists and Nazis out. That drive wouldn’t have happened without a strong work ethic. I think I’m in for a good think.