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Ken Bloom | USLHC | USA

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Culture differences

Here I am on one of my rare visits to CERN.  This is a CMS week, and I’m going to be staying next week also.  It was really my only chance to visit CERN this summer, so it seemed sensible to try to spend a little more time here than I do on a typical trip.  Being away for two weeks is not so easy on my family, but we accept that it’s part of the job.

And of course, it is sort of fun to be here!  I am enjoying having the chance to have real discussions with people whom I usually only interact with through email and in meetings.  There’s nothing like the chance encounter you have in the cafeteria or the hallway.  In fact, I’m seeing lots of US-based friends here too, whom I wouldn’t usually see at home.

This is not to say that there aren’t any meetings…quite the contrary, as it’s a CMS week.  There are meetings all the time.  But they have generally been informative.

It is very interesting to consider the cultural differences between CERN and, say, Fermilab, or perhaps any US institute.  It seems to me (and others can offer opinions) that in the US, you go to your office and you work and work and work.  And then perhaps work a little more.  It is different here — there is a lot more coffee drinking.  I’m not a coffee drinker myself.  When I first visited CERN, about twelve years ago when I was looking into a job here, I would go to meet this or that person, and they would say “Ah, you’re here!  Let’s get a coffee.”  I spent most of my week watching people drink coffee.  All the coffee drinking is partially for social purposes, but also for work purposes; people just seem to spend more time in conversations over coffee here compared to in the US, which means less time hunched over the computer reading email.  Perhaps this is good, although I don’t know how they’re all getting through their mail.

One feature of CERN that facilitates this is the restaurant and adjoining outdoor patio.  The restaurant is open from long hours — 7 AM to I think midnight, with coffee available at all times, along with dinner in the evening and alcohol at least some of the time.  And there is a nice patio next to the restaurant with lots of tables and chairs for hanging out.  Since weather in Europe is generally more moderate than in the US (at least in many parts of the US), the patio season is actually quite long — it generally doesn’t get too hot to sit out there in the summer, and you can be out earlier in the spring and later into the fall.  So as we get into the late afternoon and early evening (the sun sets late in the evening, as Europe is pretty far north), there are lots of people outside socializing with snacks and drinks.  It’s nice.  What time is it now?  Perhaps I should go soon (and hope that my colleagues in the US aren’t sending too much mail while I’m out there)….

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