A Reflection on European and US Business Practice

I recently returned from a business trip to Brussels. Following a couple of days of meetings, my wife joined me and we took a week of vacation time. Our holiday centered around an organized biking trip from Bruges to Amsterdam spread over the course of a week. Our small group for bikers from around the world slept and ate on a lovely canal boat and every day would ride 35 – 40 miles across the beautiful (and flat) countryside of Belgium & Holland. The weather was almost perfect, the people we met were delightful and we had a wonderful time.

One interaction during our week really grabbed my attention and made me think about how different cultures approach the idea of work a life.

One afternoon, our small band of hardy riders pulled up to a small café & store in rural Belgium. We had already come 30 miles that day so we were tired, hungry and thirsty. Not only that, we all had money spend.

We walked into the café to find the only person inside to be the proprietor, a middle-aged woman. She was quite friendly and told us in Flemish that while she appreciated our interest in doing business with her, she was sorry to say it was impossible as she was just going to lie down for a nap. So off we went down the road to look elsewhere.

To summarize; its 3 PM on a Tuesday afternoon at a small business in a rural area with no customers in sight. In walk 25 motivated customers looking to spend a lot of Euros. It’s practically a gift from God. Yet the business owner would rather take a nap.

I try not to generalize about societies and cultures so I don’t want to make more of this episode than it warrants. But as we rode on I couldn’t help but reflect on how a similar interaction would likely have gone in the US. It’s probable that a store owner in this country would not only joyously welcome a group like ours, she would have tried to see just how much other things she could have sold them. It’s doubtful an American merchant would rather take a nap.

So which continent has the superior business ethic? Both, probably. It’s been said that Europeans work to live (or sleep) and Americans live to work. That seemed to be the opinion of my fellow bikers, the Europeans chuckled and shook their heads but understood. The Americans including myself were astonished.

I would like to think that I could work to live but it doesn’t seem to be in my nature.

A reflection.