Wednesday, June 30, 2010

US Survival Guide - Pt. 4

Well it's time again folks, for another Survival Guide. It seems like the more I feel like I have covered everything, the more I find new points to talk about. This just goes to show how much different it is just living in another country; at home, callaloo bush is an afterthought but here in the US  it is an "exotic foreign dish" that costs much more than it should and is way too difficult to find. But I digress.................

Public Holidays (or lack thereof)

Having had the pleasure of working in corporate Trinidad in the years prior to my exodus, one of the things that I always took for granted, was the sheer number of official public holidays trinis were able to enjoy. In addition to the unofficial holidays such as practically any time the West Indies or the Soca Warriors were playing, we the members of the Trini working class often had it good.

In fact, you only realize just how many public holidays we have at home, right about the time you first start working for an American company. I see the confused expressions on your faces, you're sitting there wondering "how could this be?" You can look at any calender and see scores of US holidays but while that may be true, not many of those special days are considered "national holidays" On a calender at home, if you see a special day listed on your calender, you can bet your mother that you're going to get the day off.

Sadly, this isn't the case in the US where in fact you might be lucky to get off 7 holidays each year. The firm I work for in fact gives us the following: New Years Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July (Independence Day), Labour Day, Thanksgiving Day (plus the day after) and Christmas Day. Compare these to your average trini public holiday list...........see the difference?

Shouter Baptist Day, Indian Arrival Day, nope and nope. Well how about Corpus Christi, Republic Day, Eid or Divali? The answer is quite simply no..............hell no; and no, we don't get time off for Carnival or Easter weekend either. On another note, USA played several matches in the 2010 World Cup before finally being eliminated but did anyone see staff being sent home early to watch the game? Pity.

Worth Ethic

Seriously, WTF? I now see why there aren't that many public holidays. It wouldn't matter if there were more days available, some people probably wouldn't take the day off anyway. Part of the problem stems from a decidedly evil concept known as "at-will employment." It simply means that with few exceptions, an employer could fire an employee pretty much "at will" for nearly any reason and with little warning at all. The State of Georgia which I so happen to reside in, just so happens to be an "at will" State.

As a result, employees at many firms work solely out of fear of losing their jobs. Long before the economy tanked, some unscrupulous employers had already been cutting perks and other non-essential workplace benefits simply because they really didn't need to provide them.

Birthday celebrations for staff? What for?
Company Christmas dinner? Are you crazy?

Gone were the days of company picnics, staff luncheons and Sports&Family Days. If you didn't like where you worked, no problem, you'd just be fired and they'd simply find someone else who bitched less. At home, I truly enjoyed going to work, I enjoyed working with people who were glad to be doing what they were doing and even though we were not paid a lot of money they did it anyway.

Management understood that high morale led to high work ethic and they exploited that fact. No employee's birthday ever passed without a minor office fete. Valentines day expect chocolates at each desk, lavish Christmas dinners, weekend trips "down the islands," company t-shirts, etc. all these things gave me the feeling that the company had a vested interest in me and in return, I gave my all. Some American companies attempt to achieve the same thing but with a slightly different approach..................

"You want cake for your birthday? Aww.....fuck cake, do some work or I fire you!!"
(aka the big stick approach)

One other important point that needs to be noted about the average American workplace is the fact that employees always need to look busy. Caribbean people seem to posses a "coolness" about us even when extremely busy or under pressure. Except for the fact that I somehow manage to get more work done than most, my employers have commented on many occasions that, to them, I never really seem to "look busy." How is this possible when I do the job of three people, a hybrid job that entails IT support for the building, marketing, real estate acquisition and any random task they could think of.

Tips for "looking busy"

  • Walk with a "quickness" in your step at all times, don't stroll
  • Never ever organize files on your desk, the junkier your desk looks, they busier you appear
  • Always keep a puzzled and/or pained expression on your face, it gives the impression that you are working hard at solving a problem.
  • Make repeated trips to the printer, fax machine and copier several times per hour.
What is really unfortunate about this whole circumstance is the fact that in addition to all of the mentioned points, you still have to find time to actually do your work. You thus have to manage your own time as well as manage people's impressions of how you manage your time. What an odd concept but that's it for this month anyway, I certainly hope to see you all again next month.



  1. Hi,

    My name is Patricia Grannum and I'm a content manager with Caribbean Ideas, a digital media company based in Trinidad.

    I really enjoyed reading this post.

    Right now, for our career focused website, Caribbean Axis Professional, we're looking for writers from the Caribbean Diaspora to write about their experiences working abroad. I think this post would be a great article for the site.

    If you'd be interested in having this and some of your other writing published on our site feel free to email me at For more about our company, please visit

    Thanks in advance,

    Patricia Grannum,
    Content Manager,
    Caribbean Ideas.

  2. Hi Patricia,

    I appreciate the opportunity and will be emailing shortly.


    D.T. Johnson