Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sorry that it has been a month since our last blog post. I, David, have been slammed with work lately as we are now ending our 3rd term and it is my heaviest teaching term. 

It was an exciting weekend here in Rotterdam as we had our first guest to Rotterdam. Leslie's (and my) friend from Washington D.C., Jamie was in Brussels for work and was able to come down to Rotterdam on Thursday evening. Leslie and Jamie spent Friday in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh Museum and had lunch at Latei. I stayed in Rotterdam to work. However, on Friday night, the three of us went out to Gusto for Italian. Gusto is one of our favorite restaurants in Rotterdam.

Anyways, during dinner, we were seated on the 3rd floor, which is basically a balcony that looks down onto the 2nd floor. The table of 5 women seated next to us kept looking through our table at someone or something interesting down on the 2nd floor. I turned to see if I could spot the interesting person or item, but did not see anything or anyone out of the ordinary. About 15 minutes later, I see a man walking down the stairs to the 1st floor, and notice that it is the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte. Fairly surprised, I nudged Leslie and commented "That's the Prime Minister!!" This was not loud enough for others to hear, thankfully (More on that later). Leslie ended up asking a waiter if that was the Prime Minister and our observation was confirmed and he told Leslie that he was headed outside to accompany his dinner companion for his cigarette. The PM does not smoke evidently, but doesn't think that friends should smoke alone.

Upon their return to the restaurant, we all saw him come back in and Jamie, who had the better view, was kind enough to snap this photo-evidence of the event.

See that half of a head facing the camera way down there? Aaaaalllllll the way in the back? That's Mark Rutte.

We basically closed the restaurant down and while we were paying, we took the opportunity to ask the waiter some questions. We learned that the PM eats at Gusto at least 3 or 4 times per month and it is usually with a friend. He does not have a specific table, he takes whatever table he gets. Evidently, there really isn't a security presence with him when he dines out (so we were told). We asked if Mr. Rutte has to put his name on the list to get a table like we did and the response was "Yeah, of course!" He likes San Pelligrino water. Our waiter had not waited on his table yet. We also said, we wouldn't have noticed him if the table of ladies next to us hadn't been quite obvious that they had seen someone famous. The waiter's response was a dismissive shake of the head as if to say, "Those women were quite obnoxious about noticing the PM in that way." That response seemed quite Dutch to me...not sure why. 

I know nothing about Rutte's politics, but it was quite cool to see such an important person out at one of our restaurants.

Last week brought some exciting news: I (Leslie) got a job with Greenpeace International and start in a week as a funding coordinator at the office in Amsterdam. I'll be doing work similar to what Ido now for Clemson (writing funding proposals and donor reports), and I'll also do some budgeting work. Greenpeace International is the coordinating body for the 30 or so regional/national Greenpeace organizations (like Greenpeace USA, Greenpeace Canada, etc.).

I'm really excited to start and to join the international workforce, and, after looking through the HR manual this week, I thought I'd share some of the things that struck me as quite different from American jobs. The biggest thing is time off, so that's what I am going to tell about today.

The Dutch seem to give a lot of time off. In my job, I'll get 11 holidays a year (New Years Day, Easter Monday, the Queen's Birthday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Liberation Day, Christmas and Boxing Day, plus three "collective holidays" that GPI assigns each year). On top of that, I get 30 —that's right, 30 — days of annual leave. That's double what I get at Clemson. I was also struck by this line (which is in the manual twice): "Employees are encouraged to use all of their annual leave as is intended, in the year it is built up, whereof at least ten days are taken consecutively (i.e. two weeks leave)." Holy crap. "Encouraged to use all of their leave"?? I'm super excited for this, but at the same time — and I think it's my American work socialization that says we must work all the time — I can hardly imagine being off of work for 6 weeks out of the year. How does the work get done?? (BTW, I can also buy up to 15 extra leave days each year, if 30 isn't enough.)

For maternity leave, a woman gets 16 weeks of paid leave. You begin the leave 4, 5 or 6 weeks before the due date, then take the balance of 10, 11 or 12 weeks after delivery (but you get the minimum of 10, 11 or 12 weeks after you deliver, so if the baby's late, you get longer than 16 weeks total). The father gets 4 weeks. Plus, and I'm not sure how it works, there must be a way to take longer because the woman who hired me is going on maternity leave in July for 6 months.

There's also unpaid leave for parents, short-term care (paid at 70%) and long-term care (unpaid) leave for sick family members, and a chance for a paid 3-month sabbatical after 7 years of service.

Then there's sick leave. "GPI will provide 100% of salary to the employee in case of illness as from the first day of absence up to 52 weeks." 52 weeks!! After that, I think it says they pay 70% for the next 52 weeks, as required by Dutch law.

But, aside from these pretty awesome leave policies, there's also a side that I think Americans would generally dislike: The manual says, "GPI uses the services of an independent ARBO (health & safety company) organisation called 'Interprevent'. The ARBO doctor of Interprevent is present in the office every alternate week. The ARBO doctor has signed to keep the same confidentiality as any other doctor." That seems kind of nice — a doctor on hand in case you get sick at work, maybe? But I don't know if that's what the doctor does.

"Within two days after the report of absenteeism is made, the employee may be contacted by the ARBO doctor. This happens on request of the case manager from HR and/or the line manager. If the contact with the ARBO doctor and the employee reveals that a date of return to work is imminent, no further steps will be undertaken by Interprevent. If it is not possible to assess any date of recovery yet, the HR case manager will follow up and invite the sick employee for a face to face meeting with the ARBO doctor at the SGC office. When employees report themselves sick on a regular basis they might be advised by their line manager to see the ARBO Doctor. The employee has to follow this advice and discuss the causes of their regular absenteeism with the ARBO doctor."

Then it talks about continuing to be monitored by the ARBO doctor for 6 weeks, at which point s/he will make a "problem analysis." After 8 weeks, you make a plan with your supervisor. If you don't do what the doctor says, though, you forfeit your rights to sick pay.

I don't know about this. I suppose if they're going to be so generous with sick leave, it makes sense that they need a system in place to make sure people don't take advantage of the leave. Still, I think as an American I get a little hung up on having my employer intervene in my healthcare. Even though the ARBO doctor is held to the same privacy laws, it still rubs me the wrong way to think I have to visit a designated doctor and follow his/her directions instead of only doing what I and my regular doctor want and it being none of my employer's business.

I'll write more about my adventures in the Dutch/international workforce as they come. In the meantime, wish me luck! :)

Sorry the blog has been quiet for a while, those of you that might still be reading...I have been cranking out articles for journals (one more R&R to be completed will make 4 articles out in the last 3 weeks...HUGE!!!) and Leslie is now commuting to Amsterdam for her job, so blogging has tailed off a bit. Hopefully this post will help rejuvenate things.

Today's topic is vacation.

I saw this article on CNN yesterday: Why is America the no-vacation nation?. It is interesting and sad. And true.

Vacation is something that I've thought a bit about since arriving here in the Netherlands. Vacation is taken-for-granted here. Meaning, you get vacation from work. No questions asked, really. Yes, the amount may differ from job to job, but you get vacation. Leslie's new GreenPeace employee manual states that employees are encouraged to take ALL of their vacation days in the year AND they are encouraged to take at least 2 weeks of in a row at one point. I get vacation time. As a faculty member. I get like 30 some vacation days per year. I don't even really know how to use them all. It is a very odd thing for an American. I think the CNN article is correct that American employees are often guilted into not taking vacation time. Americans are often told that taking more than 1 week off in a row is a severe inconvenience for the employer. I didn't get any vacation time at Clemson. And I was largely expected to teach in the summer. Online teaching means more revenue for the department!

It is not hard to find information confirming that the productivity of the American worker has done nothing but increase over the last 30 years. (See here for 1 example.) Americans work harder now than ever before. Companies and academic departments alike "do more with less." Yet, I think it is fair to say that many of your everyday working types don't see the benefits of those labors. Especially not in the form of vacation from work.

Why am I writing this post about this topic now? Well, for one, Leslie and I have been planning our summer vacation. Two, I found that article yesterday. Three, in my final weeks at Clemson I had a conversation that really changed me. Over my four years at Clemson, I became friends with Lisa (name changed), one of the custodial workers who cleaned the 4th floor of Strode (among many other floors). From what I could gather from many conversations with Lisa, she took care of family members, lived in a small, country house, had worked for Clemson for about 7 years at the time and made under 20k per year. She got maybe 10 days of vacation from what I could tell and usually this was a trip to camp at the lake or to meet family in Georgia. I'm not clear on all the details, but those aren't really important. What is important is that one day after I told her that I was leaving Clemson and moving to the Netherlands, I somewhat jokingly said, "Well, maybe you can come visit us someday." Now, for the record, I'd love it if Lisa came to visit, but we all know that probably won't happen especially considering Lisa joked about not knowing how to check her Clemson email address! Her response to my statement still haunts me today. She said, with a very sad and dejected look on her face, "Oh, I could never afford that."

I have struggled with the grim realization of Lisa's words that day. What does it say about work in the US, when a woman who has worked harder than most of us for her whole life, cannot afford (in money or time) to take a trip to Europe (or wherever!) once in her life. "I could never afford that." The guy who sells us cheese and olives at the market just got back from a week long trip to Greece! Surely a custodian who cleans the classrooms for a bunch of privileged college students should be able to take a trip ONCE in her life.

I don't have any answers here. But Lisa's comment that day still makes me sad. I hope she gets her vacation some day.


Sometime back in the Year 2000, my friend LT, who I worked with at Caterpillar, spent a decent bit of our time away from producing Caterpillar's corporate magazine (her in a much more central way than I), talking about music. LT is a big music fan and one of a very few people I know whose music recommendations I will pretty much accept carte blanche. I'm a bit of a music snob that way. There aren't many people I trust with music recommendations. LT earned her credibility with me when she recommended I check out her favorite band, Jason and the Scorchers. Since that initial recommendation, I have bought 8 J&tS albums and I pretty much love them all. Now, I had seen Jason Ringenberg before. Once in Chicago at Schuba's (I think my parents went to that show with me). And once I saw Jason play at LT's going away from Peoria party (LT is good friends with, and has written for the band.).

I had not seen the full band. J&tS broke up for a while during the 2000s and just recently regrouped for a new album and a tour. Why is this important? I had seen Jason sans the Scorchers. Who cares about the backing band, right? They never mean that much anyways. I mean, who really are the Heartbreakers to Tom Petty? Who are the Wailers to Bob Marley? Ok, I'm generalizing here, but you might be thinking, well Dave, you have seen the main attraction, what is the big deal?
Warner E. Hodges, the guitar player for the Scorchers is the big deal. Since hearing the Scorchers version of Take Me Home, Country Roads off of A Blazing Grace, I have been absolutely enamored with Mr. Hodges and his guitar (Listen to the whole song, but pay attention to 1:21-1:50 of this song. Pretty much captures everything that is amazing about this guy). I have played Scorchers songs for many people and almost no one leaves unimpressed with Warner's sound (if they know anything about guitar). I remember specifically playing the Scorchers for my friend Brent in Normal, IL and Brent said something to the effect of "Wow, can that guy make that Telecaster wail!"

Anyways, here is the point. I love music. I own A LOT of music. Nearly 10,000 songs in my ITunes (and that is just what is IPod worthy). At its peak, my cd collection had about 1200 albums. I've owned cassette tapes. I have vinyl records. I have seen a lot of concerts. Hundreds. I take music pretty darn seriously. I know a good bit of rock and roll history.

WARNER E. HODGES is the best guitar player I've ever seen in person (sorry Nels Cline, you're #2, still great though). He is quite likely one of the best 3 Telecaster players EVER and possibly the best (all due respect to Albert Collins). I've loved the records, but he lives up to the reputation. The man is just a king. There is absolutely nothing I don't love about how he plays. Hell, he even plays a bigger version of my own guitar rig! Warner = Telecaster -> 2 x Vox AC30s. David = Tele -> Vox AC15. It's like it was meant to be! The man gets so many sounds out of his guitar with this setup and 5 pedals (1 of which, I'm pretty sure he didn't use during the show, 1 is a tuner and 1 is a volume pedal).
His guitar is (at times) soft and delicate. His guitar screams with overdrive. It squeals. His guitar is dirty and will punch you in the face. He is (often) facemeltingly loud. As Leslie and I were standing front row in front of his rig, he warned us prior to the show that it would be loud right there. We had our earplugs. He is animated and fun to watch. He winks at you during the show. The man swings his guitar around his shoulder (both ways), when he hits a break. He spins like a tornado. He duckwalks. He's got more little moves on the guitar than most people I've seen (meaning, playing tricks, chord formations, techniques). He looks at the guitar while he's playing like it (the guitar) is totally out of control and about to fly off his shoulder. He plays like he's just trying to keep the guitar from escaping his grasp, flying into the crowd and leaving a pile of victims in its wake. He plays right on the edge of chaos (kind of like Townshend did/does, and Kurt Cobain did, in my opinion). The man is the absolute total package. And he's a nice guy to boot. Leslie and I talked to him for probably 5 minutes after the show, he obliged my request for a picture and signed our tickets. He must have asked 3 times if we had a good time. He talked about his guitar pickups and his amps at my request.

Some of this doesn't make sense? Just watch this.

I knew I loved Warner from the albums. Seeing him live just pushed me over the edge. I think what probably makes him the best for me is the simplicity. He uses a basic rig. He uses one guitar. And yet he gets an amazing range of sounds, tones, textures and emotions out of that simplicity. Hearing White Lies (see above link) last night, knowing it would probably be the last song of the evening about brought me to tears. Heck, I'm a bit misty just thinking about it now almost 14 hours later. The band broke down the song about 2/3 of the way through and Jason introduced everyone. When he got to Warner, he said basically that he can state without compunction or hesitation that he is the best living country/rock guitarist in the world.

I can't disagree.