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Work and life aren’t opposites, and balance is biased. Here’s why

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It’s hard to notice oddities in your culture—they just feel “normal.” But there’s nothing universal about what you consider common sense. It’s all shaped by the world you grew up in.

The book American Ways by Gary Althen taught me this clearly. The intended audience is non-Americans who need to interact with Americans, so the book is full of tidbits that make me feel like an alien specimen undergoing examination. Like this:

When they first encounter another person, Americans engage in a kind of conversation they call small talk. The most common topic of small talk is the weather. Another very common topic is what the speakers “do,” meaning, normally, what jobs they have.

The book goes on like this, for 300 pages, describing all kinds of behavior I consider normal in clinical terms. It’s mind-bending.

But pay attention to the second example of small talk: what you “do.” Think about that: One of our most common subjects of conversation is, more or less, “What labor do you engage in so that you can earn money?”

This is not universal. In some cultures, the answer to “What do you do?” is to talk about what you do for fun. But here, in North America, we talk........

© Fast Company

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