Work-Life Balance

Tough choices

Does it have to be an either/or? (via Mat)

Marketplace aired a really interesting segment last week about the effects of the Chinese New Year on American businesses. The festivities for Chinese New Year last a couple of weeks on the mainland. But the fallout for American businesses, who outsource a lot of production and manufacturing to China, can last months. Supply pipelines get backed up for up to two months and employee turnover is high, with some employees simply never coming back. The segment – which we highly encourage you to listen to – ends with Marketplace’s Lizzie O’Leary and American CEO Scott Ellyson of East West Manufacturing wondering if the situation will:

  • remain unchanged, with American companies working with Chinese tradition even though it makes a significant financial dent in bottom lines
  • going the American way where we may go slow or work through the holidays but certainly never shut down completely
  • or some combination in between.

Happy medium? (via Dan4th Nicholas)

Ellyson seems to think the answer is a combination in between. And we support that. Here’s why. [Read more…]

Holidays, Vacations, and Rolling Vacations

kid on a beach on vacation

“Vacation’s all I ever wanted …. ” (Image by Boudewijn Berends)

Ah summer….when everyone takes a vacation! Right? Wrong.

Newcomers to the US are routinely surprised that the country doesn’t shut down in the summer. We certainly have some of the same wicked temperatures they do, often in old towns where air-conditioning isn’t a given. And yet, Americans suit up and go to work June through August. That isn’t because we don’t believe in vacation. Rather, it’s because the US does what’s called a “rolling vacation.” Yes, the summer is traditionally when people take a vacation. But not everyone at the same time. It’s a very very rare company or business where everyone has vacation at the same time and business is suspended. There is always a skeleton staff, during regular business hours. Even when business is slow. (Unsurprisingly, this catches Americans by surprise – routinely – when we go abroad. “Why is it so empty? What do you mean the store’s closed until Monday?” And of course, the answer is usually “vacation.” Or if you’re in the UK, “holiday.”) [Read more…]

What’s For Lunch?

Lunch. One word. Fairly universal. But how the American workplace treats the mid-day meal is always eye-opening to Advanse’s students. Here are some of the things our students notice and struggle with right away:

When Is Lunch?!

Lunch break + Calligrapomorphic

A lot of people in the US eat at their desks – either because of work load or because it’s quicker! (Image by Mo Riza)

Ah yes, the American predilection to simply barrel through the day, not stop, and just work work work because time is money. Americans are some of the hardest working people on the planet, and many will argue that the direct result is one of the largest, most robust economies in the world – despite the current economic riptides. We don’t disagree. But we’ll be the first to say that although efficiency is a good thing, we are not robots. [Read more…]

Judge Not: Bill Gates’ South Korean Faux Pas

Did you hear about the one where Bill Gates didn’t get the memo and came off as a goober?

First, let’s define the word goober….it can mean an assortment of things, including a peanut. But when you call someone a goober, you’re essentially using an American southernism to call that person an unsophisticated person, a yokel, a rube. And in fact, the first time I’d heard the word used hilariously and disparagingly was to describe—wait for it—Bill Gates! His offense? He was on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” and once again, didn’t get the memo. Guests on any show usually wait for the host to go to commercial before they exit the stage. Gates? Not so much. When the conversation was over, Gates just got up and left. This being a comedy show, the result was even more hilarity, with Stewart milking it for laughs.


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Gates Crashes
Daily Show Full Episodes Indecision Political Humor The Daily Show on Facebook

But the next morning, as we laughed about it at work, my boss said, “Once a goober, always a goober.” [Read more…]

Happy Holidays And Happy New Year!

“Happy holidays!” You hear that greeting a lot this time of year in the US. For a lot of people in the US, including non-Christians, it’s an odd phrase, controversial even. But for many others – particularly in the DC area, which attracts people from every corner of the world and every faith possible – it is an inclusive greeting, one that acknowledges Christmas, and extends the season’s warmth to everyone. Whether they are Christian, or even religious.

Indeed that is the shock to a lot of non-Americans. [Read more…]


Welcome to the Advanse blog! And especially, welcome to our fabulous AMERIGO and PRIME students who have finished the first week of their Fall 2011 stay in the US!

As you can imagine, there are huge differences – culturally, linguistically, gastronomically, so many other -llys …. – between the U.S. and the countries AMERIGO and PRIME students come from. This semester, the majority of our students are from Italy. Right there, we saw significant differences, which our students were faced with:

1) The grip and grin: In much of the world, and parts of the U.S. as well, asking people what they do for a living is considered poor manners. Not here! In D.C. it is polite, normal, and expected manners to ask your guest, especially if they’re not local, where he or she is from, what they do, or what they plan to do with their education. In return, it is polite to respond in kind and ask the same questions of your host. In other words, don’t just speak when spoken to. And don’t be shy about walking up to total strangers and introducing yourself! Certainly, don’t hold up a wall and stand in the corner, as we say. Get out there, go say “Hi” when you catch someone’s eye. It’s how conversations, friendships, business connections, and networking begins.

2) Diversity: Today, unlike years past, Washington DC is a major destination in its own right. The White House apart, it is an international city with several major universities, museums, galleries, restaurants, monuments, historic neighborhoods, and cultural organizations, all packed into a small easily travelled area. Indeed, for a lot of visitors, whether they’re from the U.S. or from elsewhere, DC can be their first experience of a diverse, multilingual, multinational, and multiethnic community with people here from every corner of the world. It can be a dizzying experience and, without fail, most of our students have loved it! As we get into the semester we’ll talk a bit more about how to negotiate conversations and benefit from the experience of being around people utterly unlike you.

3) Weather: We reiterate our welcome, and then add an old joke to it: “Welcome to Washington, where we were able to build a capital because it was a mosquito infested swamp and land was therefore cheap!” We should further add that the fall is unpredictable. Hot on Monday, rainy on Tuesday, steamy again on Wednesday, lovely on Thursday, kinda cold on Friday! Which means many of you have already been shocked by that lovely modern convenience that are standard in American offices, but many international visitors find overused – air-conditioning. Not only is it rare to find an American office without air conditioning, it is normal for the air to be much cooler than you would expect. And for the simple reason that it is easy to pack a lightweight sweater and bundle up if you are cold, it is not so easy to get more comfortable if you’re too warm. Yes, this drives up our energy bills. But it also enables us to work through the summer, which no one takes off for more than perhaps a week, and that too with much planning. (Ah yes, the American work week – a whole other post.)

And now you know why some of us in the U.S. no longer put away all our winter clothes. If you haven’t packed a shawl or a lightweight jacket or sweater, it might be time to go hit a store. Hey, you can do that, it’s Washington D.C. The shopping can be stellar!