Europeans Aren't Lazy, They Just Have Priorities

Productivity and “Vacation Mania”

Steven Gambardella
6 min readOct 29, 2021


Italians do it better. Photo by Will Truettner on Unsplash (cropped by author)

The French have a saying, “If working hard makes you rich, donkeys would be covered in gold.”

French laziness was a recurring punchline in Emily in Paris, a pristine fish-out-of-water story that’s as airbrushed as a Vogue cover shot. It was a “wind-down” watch for many people at the height of the pandemic’s demands on our attention. I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy leafing through glossies as I wait to get my hair cut.

For those who didn’t catch the show last year, the plot is simple. The 22-year-old marketing executive arrives at a Parisian luxury marketing firm her Chicago-based company has taken over.

She can’t speak French, and she’s constantly exasperated by her colleague's old world ways and laziness. All the beret and bread clichés aside, it’s the take-down of French working culture really riled up the French in the ensuing controversy around the show.¹

The stereotype of European laziness isn’t new by any means at all. I inhabit the “Old World”, a moniker which in itself feels like a mild insult. To some, this supposed laziness is really an outward symptom of decadence. Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, wrote that the EU is mired in an “indefinite pessimism”.

“An indefinite pessimist looks out onto a bleak future,” Thiel explains, “but he has no idea what to do about it.”² (If I’m truly honest, I think Thiel’s definition applies to the entire world, “new” and “old”, which still cannot comprehend the climate catastrophe that’s demanding our urgent attention.)

According to Thiel, Europe has become a continent that is so mired in pessimism and “bureaucratic drift” that it may as well eat, drink and be merry, “hence Europe’s famous vacation mania.”

While the dollar has “In God We Trust” written on it, the Euro, Thiel snipes, “might as well have kick the can down the road on it”. Even though the currency in my pocket is the once-mighty British pound, I still feel the burn of that insult on the old world.

In terms of wealth-production, Thiel’s comparison is not unfair. The United States is a still-unmatched economic superpower. Single US companies…



Steven Gambardella

I am a history PhD sharing the lessons of philosophy and history with practical benefits for your life and work. Get in touch: