Save. Spend. Splurge.

Working culture and experiences in different countries

Having lived and traveled to a few countries, I can safely draw a few observations about the working culture I have come across.

Obviously this all hinges on my experience in the office, so feel free to chime in with your own examples in the comments.


In Canada, I feel like the working culture differs quite greatly from Quebec versus Ontario (the two main provinces I’ve worked in).

Quebecois, like to have a more easygoing culture.

Anglophones, particularly Torontonians, are always in a rush.

When I’m back in the city, I find my walking speed has doubled, which is great for exercise and burning calories, but not so hot when you take into consideration that my metabolism seems to have doubled in the past few years.

(This is costing us so much money to keep me fed!! I am ALWAYS hungry. Anyway.)


In Quebec, I remember having “summer hours” at the office.

You’re going to scoff at this, but we basically called it a day on Fridays at noon when I worked for a company.



(Translation: Montreal Poutine – Beer; Poutine is a dish of French fries covered in cheese and gravy.)

“Summer hours”, meant that people could go out at a “reasonable” hour (HAH!), take in the sunshine, have a beer on the patio and basically bask in the few months of the year in barely-there clothing when it is actually warm enough to venture outside without a scarf, hat, mittens and 5 layers.


(Comparatively speaking, “barely-there” clothing only means that I am not in 10 layers of clothing. More like just 1 or 2.)

Otherwise, it’s this about 75% of the year (or at least it feels like it):



In Toronto, I was always pressured to do overtime.

Peer pressured, managerial-pressured.. it was as if they couldn’t just bloody leave me alone.

It didn’t matter how hard I worked from Monday to Thursday, because when I popped back into the office on Fridays, I was immediately set to work doing grunt work for the office.

Formatting internal documents and doing research. The two things I hate the most about a job.

It made me both annoyed and frustrated because I THOUGHT I already did my job (working 40 hours in a compressed 4-day work week as a consultant), and I THOUGHT we already paid a WHOLE internal department to do this crap.

Why I am doing THEIR work on a Friday?

Was I getting paid more? No. My salary was based on 40 hours a week a year.

Are they giving me part of their paycheque to do their jobs? No.


Anyway, the culture I experienced in Toronto was if your nose was not to the grindstone, and if they weren’t squeezing every second out of you, they weren’t getting their money’s worth.

Needless to say, Quebec wins for me. They’re a little less efficient, and more laissez-faire, but it suits my personality and they have better food.


Working in the U.S. was interesting. There were projects where we did a lot of hours, and projects where we didn’t, but all projects had the same things in common: People pretending to work a lot.

I noticed two specific ranges of working styles in the U.S. – those who worked like dogs, and those who pretended to.

I’m sure these workers exist in every culture, but it stood out to me in the U.S. because the ones who worked a lot, REALLY worked.

The ones who didn’t work…. REALLY didn’t work.



Skyline of Chicago

The loafers would shuffle papers (and leave them strewn all over the desk in an impression of working hard), surf the web, go to pretend meetings with friends, disappear for hours with a notebook and a pen (as if they’re GOING to a meeting) but then I’d catch them with a Starbucks cup (meaning they spend their hours in a Starbucks cafe doing whatever they wanted).

They’d basically hide the whole day, and you’d never interact with them until they came to give you more of their work.

The tipoff was if they had iPods in their ears.

It was an almost sure sign that they weren’t working because of 2 main reasons:

  1. You can’t really concentrate with music. It’s better with total silence; research has proven this.
  2. You are basically telling everyone to NOT disturb you which is not conducive to working

The ones who worked really hard, were doing the opposite of the above.

As I mentioned before, there was also a distinct: You are either American or you’re not, kind of attitude I came across there (regardless of colour), and a slave mentality I did not really experience in Canada.

As for these other countries, it’s all anecdotal from friends, so feel free to chime in with your experiences (if any):


My friend works in Spain right now and she says it’s NOT AT ALL like in Canada.

They take it easy. Easier than in Quebec.


After coming in each morning, they drop their bags, go out for a coffee and a breakfast which takes about an hour, and then come back, do some work for an hour, and then break for a 2-hour lunch. 😛

Portugal I am told, is somewhat similar, much like Canada versus U.S.A.


Same deal as above (different friend) but he told me that they spend the morning saying ‘Hello’ to each other, which takes about an hour, and chatting about their lives.

Every. Morning.

Then it’s working hard for an hour or two, and then time for lunch.

They don’t actually get down to working on anything until about 4 p.m., and stay very late until 11 p.m. doing what they should have done in the mornings.

They call that “working hard”, but it kind of sucks the life out of you to spend your whole day literally, at the office, avoiding work until it’s absolutely necessary. 😛

“Things get done, when they get done”, seems to be their motto.


A friend of mine just accepted a job in London and she works like a dog. She will say however, that the pub culture and drinking is extremely important there.


Covent Garden Market in England had a store called: “Beers of the World”. Pretty impressive!

If you don’t drink, you might be treated as a pariah or at the very least, greeted with flummoxed looks of how to  talk / deal with a non-drinker.

I can believe this!

They drink even in the House of Commons 😛

A total of £1.33m was spent in the House of Commons’ nine bars in the year to March 2011, records show. 

The public helps foot the bill. 

In 2011 Dr Sarah Wollaston, a GP and MP for Totnes, said some MPs are too drunk to stand up in debates and have “no idea” what they are voting for.


They work quite hard, in the same style as in English Canada / U.S., but can be just as inefficient at times.

Very rush-rush.


I am told by many-a-Frenchman and Frenchwoman I’ve met, that French people know THE BEST how to ‘work hard’ and then ‘play hard’.



I just liked the look of this store in Paris.

Although I have to tell you, when we went to go to the bank for some reason or another, the lady teller basically said that she would not serve us because it was too close to her lunchtime, and by the time she got through the 2 clients ahead of us, it would be 11:30 a.m. on the dot.


We were turned away and told to come back tomorrow.

I have plenty of stories like that, and they all boil down to a common theme: strict adherence and protection of their free time (lunch), and not working more than they’re paid to.

None of this “overtime” crap unless you’re in a higher position than a teller, like as a manager… then it means you basically give up your life for the company.

I do however, enjoy their commitment to good food, and good products. I can pretty much trust anything I bought in France to be of decent if not, excellent quality (except the caviar sold at markets which I hear is becoming a scam of some sorts.)

That’s not to say that they don’t love a good time either. They can surely drink (wine) and eat like nobody’s business when they celebrate.


They. Work. Like. Crazy.

If you think that people work long hours (50% of the time doing nothing) in North America, they work double that in Hong Kong.

You have NO life.

Weekends? You can has none.


It’s a very driven culture, and you will not get away with 40 hours a week.

It’s the same in Japan or Singapore, based on what my friends who work there now, tell me.

That said, it’s why they feel the need to blow off steam by shopping hard and gambling hard 😛



  • A

    I would agree with your comments. I worked in education in Singapore, Hong Kong and now Japan. They do work you hard and have very high expectations.

    My favorite place to work was in Czech Republic, work life balance was achieveable there.

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *