The summer of staying close to home
For cash-strapped vacationers, time off this years means exploring ... locally. A report from Europe, Japan, and the US on the return of the road trip, backpacking with a burro, and growing beets.
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That may not be a particularly surprising sentiment coming from someone from France. After all, the French – rich and poor alike – value their leisure time. They have long vacations – 37 days of paid annual leave and national holidays. They are the developed world’s champions when it comes to sleeping (an average of nine hours a night) and lingering over meals (two hours devoted to eating a day).Skip to next paragraph
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Symbolically, at least, they retain the European Union’s only 35-hour workweek, though the conservative government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has been systematically dismantling it. Companies now can negotiate longer hours with their employees, for instance, and workers can more easily convert their overtime into pay rather than time off.
Moreover, even before the changes, many people in white-collar jobs and small businesses worked more than the 35 hours. In 2006, the real French workweek averaged 37 hours – longer than the German one.
Still, the French appreciate their time away from the keyboard and cash register as much as anyone. Ms. Elkabach will be more modest with her travels this year – but will be away from the relentless ring of the work phone nonetheless.
She is planning to spend half of her three-week summer vacation in Paris, puttering around her apartment. She will spend the other half at a campground in Brittany with her children and husband.
Others, too, are being far more money conscious with their time-off itineraries. Frédéric Pinard, a tobacconist in southeastern Paris, usually spends three weeks in July at his parents’ house outside Clermont-Ferrand in central France, using it as a base for camping and hiking trips with friends.
He closes his store for vacation, like many shopkeepers in Paris. But this year, for the first time, he is looking for someone to run the place while he is gone.
“I’ve got rent to pay whether I’m here or not, and I don’t want to give up any income if I can help it,” says Mr. Pinard. “Who knows what the economy is going to do?”
That’s a common refrain being heard around the world as wanderlust becomes something closer to wanderbust. A recently published survey by the Ipsos polling company told a sobering story in the US: Half of those who normally go somewhere in July or August said that they would be staying home this year.
In Britain, at least on weekends, that means many people spending more time at the local library. Recent figures released by 118-118, the main telephone-inquiry service in Britain, suggest that residents are spending more of their weekend time indoors.
The number of callers seeking phone numbers for nightclubs, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, and bowling alleys – one gauge of out-of-home leisure activity – has fallen sharply over the past year. Yet inquiries about take-home pizza outlets have surged 22 percent, and, striking even for the land of Shakespeare, inquiries about libraries has jumped 50 percent.
“That might be one positive spin-off of the recession: our rediscovery of the joy of spending a damp Saturday in the book-borrowing haven that is a free library,” writes Monitor correspondent Brendan O’Neill.
In times of economic crisis, it is true that people tend to rediscover hobbies and leisure pursuits that have long been forgotten. Many, too, tilt more toward “values vacations” – trips that, if you have to spend money, take on more meaning.