The Incredible Shrinking American Summer


When I was a kid summers were gloriously long. We finished school in the spring just a few days after Memorial Day (never past the first few days of June) and we didn’t go back until just before Labor Day (never earlier than the last few days of August). That would give us almost three full months of summer vacation. The summers seemed endless–at least until mid-August when the start of the school year began to loom.

Now kids barely have two months off from school. And in their over-scheduled lives, summer camp and family vacations take up large chunks of that. No doubt enjoyable for the kiddies but it doesn’t leave much time for loafing around and running around the neighborhood, (and spending hours at the library!).

And don’t even get me started as to what happens as an adult. Unlike Europe, most Americans only get about two weeks of vacation time a year. Or in my current case three weeks of “paid days off” but sick days have to come out of that as well. Thankfully I haven’t had one sick day for about a year so I can use it all for vacation. And I am also good at linking up federal holidays and weekends to vacation time to really stretch the time away from work.

Studies show that humans need at least two weeks of continuous vacation to receive any mental health benefit from being away from everyday stress that builds up the rest of the year. Little 4-day mini-breaks, while fun and interesting don’t provide the necessary down time to allow one to decouple from the routine of life. Even worse is the increasing employer expectation that their employees shouldn’t actually take their two weeks all at once, or that employees should take their Blackberry with them on vacation.

I need to be a European.

21 thoughts on “The Incredible Shrinking American Summer

  1. Lu @ Regular Rumination September 8, 2010 / 9:49 am

    Ugh yes! Even though I'm still on school scheduling, I agree that two weeks is just not enough vacation! At least colleges are still operating on a healthy sense of breaks. We get a month in December and almost 4 complete months in summer. My sister still goes back to school after Labor Day, but that's a rarity these days. The reasoning in our area is that it's heavily reliant on tourist money and all the kids have summer jobs that don't end until after Labor Day, so they can't go back to school until after that. They do go to school until June 15th or so though.


  2. Mystica September 8, 2010 / 10:12 am

    Weather patterns have changed so much all over the world. Its the same here – we never know when to expect rains or monsoon winds or whatever. Right now some rain would be very welcome.


  3. Susan in TX September 8, 2010 / 10:25 am

    This made me smile. I've often wondered if I was born “on the wrong side of the pond.” :)


  4. Steph September 8, 2010 / 11:55 am

    Oh, I'm so with you Thomas. Two weeks off for an ENTIRE year is not enough! I am grateful to be a grad student since I don't have to save up vacation days here and there (though I don't get 4 months off like Lu), but my poor husband only gets 10 work days off per year which is just dreadful. Add to this the fact that most employers also don't want employees taking an hour for lunch and expect them to work late without compensation and it's little wonder people are so stressed.


  5. September 8, 2010 / 12:30 pm

    I am glad to be European when I read posts like this. One of my American friends who only got two weeks vacation, not only had to take time out of her following years leave in order to have a few days break before the wedding (thus tying her into staying there for another year or risking being sued) but then got sick on her honeymoon, couldn't fly back, and was forced by her employer to take that as holiday too! Eugh. It hardly makes you want to be a motivated employee.
    However, there are also drawback to being a European! Like, you get to watch Mad Men first. And the pancakes are better on your side of the pond. And you had Labor Day while we were at work :)


  6. Tiffany Norris September 8, 2010 / 2:58 pm

    I love this quote–“Little 4-day mini-breaks, while fun and interesting don't provide the necessary down time to allow one to decouple from the routine of life.” So true!
    Can I join you in becoming European? ;)


  7. Mary September 8, 2010 / 4:46 pm

    I think Australia would become you too!

    We get four weeks + public holidays …there would be national outrage if holiday leave was ever reduced. I know we have a reputation as being very hard working when we work overseas and I wonder if that is because we enjoy sensible holiday time…


  8. booksslicedanddiced September 8, 2010 / 8:27 pm

    I completely agree. Some of my clients at work live in London and Canada and they take off incredible amounts of time – and seem a whole lot happier!


  9. Teresa September 8, 2010 / 9:08 pm

    I know I'm extraordinarily lucky as an American to get four weeks of vacation. (And an equal amount of sick time.) If I didn't get that much I'd never be able to travel for pleasure because I'd end up burning it all going home for the holidays. So I'm very lucky.

    But you know, even with the generous vacation package, there's still a mentality that if you use it all you aren't a good worker. Frankly, I'm a better worker after a long break. I haven't yet managed to take two weeks at a stretch, but I may try to make it happen in 2011. One week of travel, one week of at-home loafing = bliss!


  10. Anna van Gelderen September 9, 2010 / 3:28 am

    As a Dutch civil servant I feel immensely privileged to have 9 (nine!) weeks of paid vacation every year. I love my job and I work hard at it, but I also love to have plenty of time to relax and recharge my batteries.


  11. Steerforth September 9, 2010 / 8:37 am

    I once read that for Americans to enjoy the standard of living they enjoyed in 1949, they'd only have to work for two and a half days a week.

    Two weeks off a year is dreadful. I used to get angry enough about having five!

    I enjoy my work, but I'm increasingly aware of the passing of time and I don't want to wait until I retire to do all of the things I want.


  12. Danielle September 9, 2010 / 8:55 am

    I think you are right about needing time away from work–I actually have almost six weeks (yes, I am sick, I know) of vacation time saved up as I've not gone away on a proper vacation for the last few years–I have just not been able to afford it. And taking a day here and there off to stay at home–where I feel like I still need to be “working”–doing productive things just doesn't cut it. Lately I've been feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. I have a friend who lives in France and she and her family take at least two really good (away to another country) vacations every year for a week or two. I think, too, that Europeans have the right idea.


  13. Bloomsbury Bell September 9, 2010 / 10:02 am

    Gosh – I didn't know how bad you Americans have it! I get four weeks a year and we get bank holidays as well as paid sick leave so us Brits are really fortunate. Having said that, we too are increasingly suffering from a culture of not taking holiday so as not to risk looking like we aren't 100% committed to our jobs.


  14. Hannah Stoneham September 9, 2010 / 11:50 am

    Here in France, people are just starting to drift back from their long holidays – shops and restaurants that have been closed since late July are opening up…

    Sadly, I am about to move back to racy old London where people do not take four weeks off in the summer as a minimum – but I rather wish they did!

    Thanks for sharing another lovely post



  15. Kathleen September 9, 2010 / 4:25 pm

    So true! I need to be a European as well!


  16. Darlene September 10, 2010 / 7:49 am

    You are so right, Thomas. That saying that nobody on their deathbed wishes they had worked more sticks in my head. And don't get me started on friends who plop their Blackberry on the restaurant table…on a Saturday night, ugh!

    Life is for living.


  17. Thomas at My Porch September 10, 2010 / 3:24 pm

    Lu: I'll take your schedule!

    Mystica: Our summer has been pretty hot.

    Susan: I think the same thing to a point. I only think of the good things and edited out the bad.

    Steph: Ah, the days of being a grad student. I was always single while in school so I didn't have the disparity between my time off and my husbands. That would be a challenge.

    Lyndsey: You had that August bank holiday while we were at work…

    Tiffany: Rather than become European we need a revolution here where quality of life is measured by more than income and economic production.

    Mary: Can the words “Australian” “sensible” and “holidy” be used in the same sentence? :)

    Books Sliced and Diced: I know it would make me happier.

    Teresa: You need some serious therapy! Take two weeks at a time, you deserve it.

    Anna: Sigh. I can't even imagine having 9 weeks off. And I could live in the Hague.

    Steerforth: Americans are clueless when it comes to quality of life. We have very warped ideas.

    Danielle: Although I love to travel, I also love to spend time at home for extended periods. I would be more than happy to coach you through taking off two of your six (!) weeks and not feeling the need to do productive things.

    Bloomsbury Bell: Employers who behave that way are just bad managers. They make me crazy.

    Hannah: When are you moving back? I will be in London in November. We are planning a little book blogger get together. Email me if you are interested: onmyporch at hotmail dot com

    Kathleen: Or as I mentioned above, we need to start a revolution here.

    Darlene: Amen. What I find worse than the work Blackberry on the table is when you are spending time with friends and they take other non-important calls on their mobiles interrupting conversation, dinner, etc. It is like being cheated on right in front of your face.


  18. Emily Barton September 11, 2010 / 10:19 pm

    Oh, yes. I need to be a European, too. What on earth is the matter with Americans? We can't possibly be more productive in our constant states of being overworked and burnt out.


  19. agoodstoppingpoint September 12, 2010 / 2:09 pm

    Amen. I have the same paid time off arrangement that you do: one bank of time used for sick, personal or annual leave. I hope I don't get sick! When I first began working full-time, I was afraid to ask for more than a week off, but as I accumulated days, I became more 'bold' and would aim for two weeks. It really is the minimum time necessary to recharge.

    – Christy


  20. madbibliophile September 14, 2010 / 10:55 am

    I think I want to be Dutch now after reading Anna's reply.

    Two weeks!! I can't believe it. That is really nothing after a stressful year. The average annual leave in Australia is 4 weeks although this will be the first time I'll be taking annual leave. I do miss those nice long uni holidays that lasted almost 3 months.


  21. leaningtowardthesun September 14, 2010 / 5:43 pm

    How I miss those endless summers too. Last month I asked to take my two weeks all at once and got a lot of eyebrow raises and slightly disturbed looks, though it was finally approved. I was expected to check in and even drop in if I got back early and was bored. Yeah right! I actually felt like a real person afterward.


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