A wave of good sense washed over me yesterday evening as I slouched on the sofa, deciding whether I would watch the France game on TV or not. I decided against it and, instead, went to bed at 8:30 – the same time as the kids. This turned out to be a good idea because I had a good 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep which I apparently needed. I was awake sometime after 5 and read a little. When the alarm went off at 6, I volunteered to make breakfast, pack lunches and get the kids off to school.
School starts early here, at 7:45, which means the kids need to be out of the door and on their way to the bus stop at 7:00. That, in turn, means that we get up at 6:00, wake the kids about 10 minutes later and then have 50 minutes to get them up to speed. We (try to) make sure they have packed their school bags the night before so, in theory, that should be ample time. The reality is a little different. Usually at 6:59 they suddenly remember all sorts of stuff they should have done and there is a general panic involving a bit of grumpiness, lots of running up and down stairs and finally a sigh of relief as they leave just in time to get the bus. I don’t think that is particularly noteworthy, that’s just how kids and parents work.
But today was noteworthy, because they were dressed, fed, clean, packed-up and ready to go by 6:30. That sort of efficiency usually requires Ariane’s tornado-like whizzing around the kitchen and me physically prying the kids out of their beds. The difference today was that we in the middle of a “theme week” at school. Every day the girls have a different clothing theme. So far we have had beach, slob and bad taste – essentially my summer wardrobe rolled into one – and tomorrow is chic. This simple trick has filled the girls with energy and they spring out of bed at 6:00 and get all excited about going to school. When Ariane appeared at 6:30 and saw that the kids were all ready to go, I couldn’t resist commenting “This is what happens when Dad organises things.” In retrospect I probably should have kept that to myself.
It occurs to me that perhaps one of the reasons that Germany wins the manufacturing race in Europe is really because they get to work earlier than the rest of the continent. If I want to avoid the traffic jam to get to work, then I only need to wait until about 8:00 and it’s all over. Everyone is rushing to get in at 7:00 – or even earlier. At my old company we had a shift system covering the time from 7am to 8pm. We never had any trouble getting people in for the early shift, but it was always a struggle for the late slot. It’s probably bred in to them at school, which also starts so early.
Having said that, they knock off early as well. In small companies we have the standard 40-hour working week, but in the larger corporations it is quite common to have a 37 hour week, 30 days of holiday and flexi-time. A lot of the companies I deal with are insurers, and they have very generous working conditions. I always wondered why so many people started at 7am and were gone by 4pm. Now I’ve worked it out – it’s a great way to avoid a lot of irritating and unimportant phone-calls from, say, your customers. At 7am you can talk undisturbed at the coffee machine and compare notes. I am being a bit unkind here – you can also clear your e-mail inbox and get ready for the upcoming day. On the whole, there is still a strong German work ethic and a sense that you need to get your job done. There are, of course, a minority that milk the system and enjoy the easy ride but most work hard.
Over the years I have also got used to the early start. I am generally awake before six and get into work around 8. You can start calling people at 8 and not get in any trouble. The main benefit of the early start should be the early finish. Unfortunately setting up your own business isn’t a great idea if you want to be home at 5 every day. Next year, when things have settled down, I’ll come home early. At least that’s what I said last year.