Business and Pleasure: A Study in Cultures

While on vacation last week, Matt and I toured of some of Croatia’s wine country. Perhaps you didn’t know such a thing exists. Well, it does! And the drink is delish! Between glasses of vino, I asked Mario, our tour guide, who he sold most of his wine to—could I buy it in a Croatian wine shop? Order it in a restaurant? How do people find his little vineyard on the Peljesac peninsula?

His response: “To me, wine is friendship. Wine is not business.” He gets together with all sorts of random folks, drinks a bottle or three, eats lunch and soon they become customers. No suits and Powerpoints, just a meal in which the wine flows as freely as the conversation.

Later in the week we met another tour guide, Ante, who owns a travel agency. Er, excuse me. A destination management company. “Tourism is my passion,” he said. “I must work with people I like. I won’t just do business with just anyone.”

Our American shtick is very “don’t mix business with pleasure,” whereas across the ocean the credo seems to be the opposite: make your pleasure your business.

I’ve only held two long-term jobs. I’ve made incredible friends at both—currently, I’ve got four work BFFs who I’m confident will be around long after my job isn’t. I made another of my closest friends at my NYC gig and she remains a confidante, travel advisor, and sounding board for all career-related decisions. But would I say my work is about friendship? No. Other than the fact that I write about it on this blog, of course. When it comes to my career, the jobs have always come first. The friendships followed.

Would I write for an editor I didn’t like? Absolutely. Have I? Of course. Friendship is not one of my pre-requisites to work with someone, not by a long shot. Getting to do what I love is the dream, working with someone I adore is a sweet bonus.

While it’s a treat to do business with pals, it can be prickly. I’ve seen more than one friendship end over prospective business ventures. When you invest time, money and passion into something and suddenly you’ve got an entirely different vision than your so-called partner, it can be hard to sever the professional ties and still salvage the relationship.

And plenty of friendships fall apart over promotions (or lack thereof). Office politics can be rough, and they don’t always leave much room for camaraderie. Not to mention the fact that until recently, companies generally discouraged fraternizing with coworkers.

I’m not sure who’s got the better philosophy: Us or the Croats. The two Croatian business owners seemed plenty happy, professionally and personally. But the possibility for fractured relationships looms large. Less so in my job-first, friendship-second career.

Are you a believer in mixing business with pleasure, or more about separating the personal and the professional? Got any stories of friends and work gone bad? Or better yet, gone good?

14 Comments

Filed under BFFs and Work

14 responses to “Business and Pleasure: A Study in Cultures

  1. I think Americans would enjoy work a lot more if they operated like the Croats.

    I’m jealous of your trip! Hubs and I have been wanting to visit Croatia for a couple of years now. What did you think?

  2. I mix business and pleasure all the time. In fact my former husband and I used to work together (we met in grad school, not on the job). However, I also understand that work is work and you have to work with some people that you would never want to be friends with. So I guess I take it case by case.

  3. I can say my favorite jobs were ones where I worked with people I liked. Having compatible coworkers and a boss who will advocate for you makes a huge difference in a job.

  4. I love your blog, and writing style! I am a faithful reader! You talk about an important part of life, making long term friends, even if you are married!
    I have never commented before, but regarding this subject, I can’t resist! I agree with you that between co workers there is sometimes competition, and between employers, and employees there is a power imbalance. This can make friendships difficult. In situations like the “Croatian examples”, those were friendships between customers, and business promoters. That is very different. For example, my husband is an account mgr. for a large medical supply distributor. He has made many friends, that have been his longtime customers. They are now “couple” friends for us. We will meet socially for dinner parties, and other events, with these couples. One of the wives, and I have become close friends. I think that some businesses are more social. Wine, travel, sales, and any other kind of work that involves helping people, or giving expert information is more likely to lead to friendship. What do you think?

  5. megan

    I used to think that I could/wanted to make a lot of friends through work. I didn’t see a lot of options for me to meet people when I was taking a break from school. Perhaps I put too much on making friends at work because, when my first co-workers turned out to be horrible, I quit. Yes, I quit because I didn’t (or couldn’t) get along with my co-workers…which is always an embarrassing ‘reason for leaving’ on future employment applications. Maybe that’s why I currently have no job.

    • Natalie

      I quit once also because I could not work with another employee. She was management and I was not. I actually relocated within the company and never had problems. I have since moved onto to another career and believe that if work is not happy due to co-workers, I can request a transfer.

      I tend to let people bother me if they are rude and have less than desirable attitudes. My current work allows me to avoid contact with those I prefer not to be around. It is a big place, there are many other friendly people to share ideas with and sometimes dinners or community events after working hours.

      I hope you find the right job and people who share similar interests with. It makes work much more enjoyable.

  6. Did you stop at Dubrovnik? We went there and it is gorgeous! Anyway, a certain colleague of mine where we had become good friend previously, got jealous when I got an opportunity (not a promotion) from the boss based on my performance. It tore our friendship apart slowly and silently. On my side, I can’t accept that she can be happy for me. On her side, she can’t accept that a senior (her) is being passed over by a junior (me) less than a year of working *sigh*

  7. We’re best friends and work together. But then again, our work is pretty fun. I’m not sure how we’d get along if it consisted of making boring spreadsheets, instead of cooking and writing and taking pretty pictures.

    Hope Croatia was fun!

  8. At times it can be hard. But one thing I’ve learned is that in order to run a really successful business there needs to be a sense of community. And at times it can be tough.

    For example. I once was vulnerable to a co worker and she used that information against me when discussing an issue with a director. It was quite devastating. I’ve learned that it’s important to connect with people, but to also be smart it what’s being shared.

    But in my heart I hope that all of America will see each other as friends.

  9. I’ve made friendships with people who I have worked with, but I’ve seen more friendships fall apart because of office politics. I think in some ways, the friendship needs more than the workplace to be able grow.

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