When two worlds collide

Here’s something I didn’t ever expect to write about here: food and how it relates to civil engineering (which is what I do).  When you belong to an organization, you meet a lot of people and you get a lot of e-mails.  After I graduated college and moved to San Diego, I decided it was time to join something where I could meet other people in my field.  I went to a few meetings with co-workers, then found out there was a chapter specifically for young engineers.  If you know me, you’ll know that was the beginning of my totally-nerdy-but-kind-of-cute introduction to T. 

I’ve been fortunate that my company supports my involvement and I usually attend both a national conference and a regional one (which is specifically for the younger engineers).  Not only does this give me an opportunity to hear presentations beyond my specific specialty of civil engineering, it also introduces me to people from all across the country.  Last year, we met new graduates who work in Alaska! 

Last year’s national conference was held in Chicago, IL and a small group from our chapter attended.  After long days of conference meetings and presentations, we got to explore the city and experienced some nightlift, courtesy of our younger engineer hosts.  It was at this conference that I met Ken Maschke, although he probably doesn’t remember it as I was only one of hundreds he encountered that weekend.  But, had I not met him then, I wouldn’t have taken notice when I saw his name in the monthly newsletter.

Ken is currently on a six-month externship in Copenhagen, working for a structural engineering company.  It’s a rare opportunity, and he’s started a “blog” to kind of document his experiences, in and out of the office, and share what it’s like as an American and also as a young engineer.  What caught my eye, of course, was his post on food in the office.

It’s a well-known fact that European offices seem to value “quality of life” and their employees happiness very highly.  Taxes and political issues aside, they often have plenty of vacation time, good office relationships, good benefits, and a comraderie that most people would love to see at work (I’m grateful that my company has a healthy office culture and also values our work/life balance).  Ken’s Danish company provides an office cafeteria, of sorts, where all employees of all levels gather to eat lunch.  I suspect it’s highly frowned upon to eat lunch at your desk like some of us may do here.  They also gather for a simple breakfast meeting each Friday, which seems like a good way to give your group updates but also gives them another opportunity to interact with each other face-to-face.  My favorite comment, though, relates to the cake that is served to celebrate the beginning of someone’s vacation.  Now, that’s a great idea for a send-off!  My experience with office cakes was that they only come out when someone’s leaving the company!  I think that sends a bit of a mixed message, don’t you?

My office has a wonderful Rec Committee that often plans events to get us away from our desk and talking to other people.  We have chili cook-offs, smoothie days, ice cream sundae days, salad spin-offs, holiday bake-offs, and monthly lunch staff meetings.  Every Tuesday, someone in the office brings in light breakfast foods.  We have an after-work team building/happy hour once a month and a fun annual picnic.  If we only got twice as much vacation time, I think we’d be stiff competition for the Europeans for happy employees!

Ken notes that “food is a universal way to connect people” and I have to agree.  At large parties, people tend to gravitate to the food spots and start up small talk.  If you have nothing else to say (since religion, politics, and many other topics are considered impolite these days), you can always ask if the cheese plate is worth sampling.  When a friend is having a bad day, taking them out for food and a good drink is your way of saying, “Let me help you… somehow.”  On a bright summer day, what better way to get friends together than throwing a bbq party?  Birthdays are celebrated with dinners out, holidays are celebrated with dinners in.  Food brings people together, all people, even us dorky engineers.

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One response to “When two worlds collide

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed my post about office food in Denmark. I only have two more months left before I have to return to Chicago. I will definitely miss frokost (lunch) og ferie kage (vacation cake).

    btw. Excellent blog. I found it by doing a google search on my name. You can learn a lot about yourself in that way.

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