A few months ago, David Brooks was talking about the concept of haimish, which I confess I hadn't heard before:
Recently I did a little reporting from Kenya and Tanzania before taking a safari with my family. We stayed in seven camps. Some were relatively simple, without electricity or running water. Some were relatively luxurious, with regular showers and even pools.
The simple camps were friendly, warm and familial. We got to know the other guests at big, communal dinner tables... Two of the Maasai guides led my youngest son and me on spontaneous mock hunts — stalking our “prey” on foot through ravines and across streams... The more elegant camps felt colder. At one, each family had its own dinner table, so we didn’t get to know the other guests. The tents were spread farther apart. We also didn’t get to know the staff, who served us mostly as waiters, the way they would at a nice hotel.
I know only one word to describe what the simpler camps had and the more luxurious camps lacked: haimish. It’s a Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.Having worked in two academic labs and a number of corporate environments, I believe that there is most certainly a haimish lab environment. Even though most laboratories aren't particularly warm (earth-toned hoods? soft leather benchtops?), there's certainly a warmth that some labs exude and others do not. A few haimish touches:
- I think chairs and white boards lead to conversation.
- There needs to be a careful balance between privacy and isolation -- you want to be able to provide people space for a private conversation, but people need to work close enough together to interact.
- A coffee pot and some goodies is always a nice touch; a couch and a breakroom is helpful, too.
- The boss has to be wary of where he or she ends up; depending on the environment, he or she can either generate or crush the haimish.
- Music, I think, is a key part of generating a little conviviality.
I think haimish is something that you can find in academic laboratories and small companies; in the larger corporate laboratories I've been in, I've seen less of it. That said, it's still possible.
Readers, what do you think? Do you have a haimish lab?