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I read with interest an article about Japanese people not being too happy with long weekends or long breaks. This might seem strange to those of us who look forward to holidays and weekends even if it means spending these catching up on sleep or perhaps bingeing on TV viewing.

However, the Japanese habit of overwork is hard to change. It is so deeply ingrained in them that being at a loose end is an experience they would not enjoy. The prospect of a ten-day holiday in the month of May when special days off combine with the traditional “Golden Week” fills many Japanese with a sense of dread, with some admitting that they don’t know how to spend so much free time.

A survey by the Asahi Shimbun daily showed 45 per cent of workaholics in Japan “felt unhappy” about the long break. Some complain about the holiday crowds making travel an uncomfortable experience.

Having lived in the UAE for many years, I know how important holidays are as it means flying home to be with family.

- Vanaja Rao

For the rest of us who count the days to a holiday the only emotion we feel is joy and a sense of anticipation. As for expats who work long hours, a holiday is cherished, with every moment savoured to the full.

Having lived in the UAE for many years, I know how important holidays are as it means flying home to be with family. But there’s a catch here. There are certain months in the year which are in demand when it comes to annual leave requests, making it impossible to accede to these preferences. Suggestions are made by the person in charge of granting the leave such as reaching a compromise. This is a very difficult task as everyone is convinced that their need is greater than that of the others. The lobbying and bargaining begin, with no one prepared to budge an inch.

Eventually, those who are able to make a convincing case for themselves by resorting to cajolery and sheer doggedness are rewarded while those who are not as vociferous are sidelined. This drama is played out every year. There are certain months in the year coveted by all for obvious reasons. These are the summer months when folk back home are also inclined to take leave or children are free as schools and colleges are closed.

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Asked to state their preferences at the beginning of the year, the list of holiday seekers is examined by the person in charge of regulating time off. As he peruses the list, he realises with dismay that granting everyone’s wish is going to be impossible. So, those who have opted for the same time slot are called to a meeting and asked if they reach a compromise. This is when the wheeling and dealing begins. The majority refuses to budge, citing urgent business back home that requires their presence. It is difficult to argue against this simply because there is no way to disprove the truth of their premise. There is no way to check facts as expats are notorious for keeping their private life under wraps, rarely disclosing trivia about family or home.

There are a few, however, who generously say they will take their holiday at a less busy time. The others stick to their guns, not bothered by the thought of a skeletal staff struggling with a heavy workload while they are away. Their argument is simple. They recall certain times when the tables were turned and they bore the brunt of a paucity of staff.

So, the stand-off continues and the person in charge eventually gives in due to sheer fatigue in the face of such dogged recalcitrance.

How much easier life would be if everyone were more like the Japanese!

– Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India.