This post is a part of our weekly International Voices column, writing by UT students, for UT students. Enjoy!
It is Sunday, just past morning, and I’m treating myself to breakfast tacos at the Red River Café and contemplating why it is that we always need a reason to treat ourselves to something: A dissertation progress report that went well, receiving a fellowship, finishing a term paper, grading 100 exams…. The notion that we need to earn our fun and doing something good for ourselves pervades grad student and undergrad thinking alike, and I suspect it doesn’t stop there: Work hard, play hard is a truly American credo, right?
Germans are proverbially hard workers, too, but, in contrast to Americans, we also cherish relaxation and (try to) separate work and private life neatly. Concepts that form part of the core values of a society tend to be lexicalized, and so we have a word marking the end of the workday: Feierabend, literally the ‘celebratory evening’. Time to have a Feierabendbeer, and ‘let five be an even number’.
The saying Freitag um eins, macht jeder seins (Fridays at 1pm, everybody does their own thing) further illustrates this work ethic: Once you’re off the clock on Friday, the weekend is yours and yours alone. Everybody takes a break, as most stores are closed on Sunday, and offices deserted. An acquaintance of mine who spent a year doing research in Potsdam told me he would often be the only one working at his institute on Saturdays. Even grad students will wish each other a schönes Wochenende and take off.
Here, in academia, there is neither a Feierabend nor a full weekend unless you decide to just take time off and deal with the guilty conscience later. So you didn’t get all your readings done? You didn’t do your best on an assignment? You haven’t finished grading 100 exams and 25 homeworks? At least you got enough sleep and thought about something other than work for a day or two! Weekends are necessary to gain perspective (the world won’t come to an end if you don’t understand Krifka’s model of telicity, no abyss will swallow you whole if your students have to wait two days longer for your comments on their draft, which they may ignore anyway) and to soak in all the motivation and sunlight you need to get through the next week.
For fifteen weeks, you flail your arms just to keep your head above water, until finals’ week, when, too exhausted to feel anxious anymore, you hand in your last paper and squint confusedly at the bright sunlight outside. Suddenly you’re free and summer is beckoning, 3 glorious months of freedom lie ahead. I, for one, find it hard to adjust to all this free time – I can’t stop marching to the you-need-to-be-working rhythm for at least another week or two. And I find myself wondering, wouldn’t it be nice if instead of frantic semesters and long summers, I’d have a real weekend every weekend and take only a month or two off in the summer? But that may just be the Tschörman in me talking…