By Wendy Davila
Don’t you wish you could have one day to yourself and leave work early just because you felt like it? In American society, we look down upon anyone calling out from work, even if it is a family emergency or health issue. Two years ago, I was penalized because I left work eight minutes before the end of my shift. My grandfather had passed away an hour before, and yet I still faced trouble with my boss.
We live in a society that values money over time with loved ones, but that’s not our fault; it’s just the way the US was created. We thrive on making "the American dream" come to life, a facade with which we pretend we are elite. In reality, we are gasping for breath, trying to make it until our next vacation for a tiny chance of respite. In contrast, Europeans have the ability to use the standard minimum of four weeks for a vacation, whether that be in the next country over or a staycation.
Getting a new job, graduating from university, buying a new house, and having children are all milestones worth celebrating. For many, children are the greatest goal of all. But working parents have it tough; after having her organs rearranged during a C-section, the mother bonds with her newborn for precisely twelve weeks before she is ripped back into the working world. Paternity leave is unheard of in America; any realistic father should count himself lucky to even be there for the birth.
The minimum time of maternity leave in the EU is 14 weeks, but many countries exceed the standard—Italy allows five months, and Sweden allows a whopping 480 days shared between both parents. For the fathers, paternity leave does look different but much better than the American standard. The minimum leave allowed for fathers is ten days, but some countries offer months; they know that this is a pivotal time for the parents to acclimate to their new lifestyle.
Our tolerance for backbreaking work and an iron disposition is held to be unrealistically high here in the US, and apparently, so too, is our tolerance for unnatural foods. If you go into a grocery store and pick up any box, you will see that it isn’t as natural as is advertised. Some foods even include more chemicals than natural ingredients. Restrictive legislation in the EU bans almost all harmful additives, but here in the United States, there is no such ban. In reactionary fashion, these additives are innocent until proven guilty, so while America sits waiting and gorges on food filled with dyes and allergens, the EU takes preventative action and eliminates them.
If you thought that our food was the only thing contaminated with chemicals, think again. Most of our skin and hair care products contain these harmful ingredients. What we decide to put on our skin is quickly absorbed, making its way into our system and ultimately harming us internally. There are many ingredients that are banned in European countries, such as parabens, which are found in many shampoos and cosmetics. According to some European investigative research, parabens can disrupt hormone function and increase the risk of breast cancer in women. The list of banned ingredients goes on and on, yet we continue to use them in 85 percent of US products, which makes them nearly impossible to avoid.
Although I am a proud citizen, I can’t help but gaze across the water at the European style of living with fascination and longing. But I do not believe my idolization of Europe has clouded my judgment – I see the American standards for what they are: excruciatingly low. To add insult to injury, it seems like the sub-par conditions that we face as Americans are constantly being swept under the rug. I don’t want to live the rest of my life working a 9 to 5 job, wondering if the babysitter is taking great care of the child that I only spent twelve weeks of quality time with.