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Society

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Vacances

by Marion Sevenier

Holidays

Translated Wednesday 12 August 2009, by Helen Robertshaw and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Polls show that increasing numbers of French people will not be going away this summer, confirming the trend established over previous years. Is the crisis to blame? Yes, but it’s not the only reason.

Holidays…People are talking about nothing else. However, many people will not be lucky enough to enjoy them. 51% of French citizens, i.e. over half the French population, will be staying at home. Among them are those who are not going away due to the current economic situation and the resulting financial difficulties. And there are others who never go away, crisis or not, as they can’t afford a holiday; it’s always too expensive. Faced with this situation, people often make do, they enjoy some semblance of a break by going on a day-trip to the countryside, or spending a week with family. But a real break, which enables one to escape from everyday surroundings and routine, is increasingly rare.

Yves (62) is an employee in an estate agency in the Alpes-Maritmes (in Nice). He is a far cry from the cliché, popularised by American TV series, of estate agents who are as wealthy as they are dishonest. In fact, his monthly salary of €1,250 is merely an advance on commission. His is thus a precarious job, which depends to a large extent on results, while the profession has been badly affected by the crisis: “We’re having difficulty securing sales at the moment. The banks are no longer willing to lend money, even when people have CDI (indefinite term) contracts. This is a serious problem for me, because if I don’t sell anything, my boss has the right to sack me”, he complains.

Every month, he lives in fear of not being able to make ends meet. “When I’ve paid the rent, electricity, telephone bills and transport costs to and from work, we only have €300 left to feed the two of us”, he explains. So this year, he ruled out any possibility of a holiday with his 14-year-old daughter, with whom he has lived alone since he separated from his wife a year ago. “It doesn’t matter to me, but my daughter came top of her class, she deserved to get away. And even if financial help does exist, it’s not enough and I don’t see how it would be possible for me to treat her to a holiday, even if she went alone”, he says regretfully. Yves’ last holiday was two years ago. “A distant memory”, he says.

Pauline (23) won’t be going away this summer either. She works as a receptionist in a bank. “It’s not a very well-paid job. I work 39 hours per week and earn €1,150 per month, the minimum wage. The crisis hasn’t really made a difference to my usual situation”, she says. Even though she lives in social housing in the Paris suburbs, she sometimes has difficulty surviving: “After all my expenses, I barely have €300 left to live on every month, and as a result, it’s impossible for me to plan a trip away. What’s more, I have to save up in order to pay my taxes in September: €900. It’s almost a month’s salary!”, she explains.

Last year, however, she managed to get away to Canada, to stay with a friend, but only after a real struggle: “I saved from my salary for six months in order to be able to afford to go, and I bought my ticket well in advance, because there was a really good special offer. Then, to finance my stay there, I took out an additional loan, which I’ve only just paid back.” This year, financial problems meant she wasn’t able to save at all. She nonetheless remains optimistic, and is doing all she can to achieve a better standard of living: “I’m training for my professional banking certificate. Then I’ll be able to get a better job and perhaps earn a slightly higher salary”. In the meantime, she’ll be spending her holidays…in her council flat in Gentilly.

Pierrette (36) is a mother of three children aged 11, eight and four and is actively seeking employment in the Toulouse area. Around two years ago, the small cleaning company she had set up with her husband went bankrupt, plunging the family into a financially precarious situation. A few months ago, after a long period living on the RMI (Minimum Income of Insertion), her partner found a job as a technician. But their financial situation still doesn’t leave any leeway for leisure activities: “Water, gas, electricity, and the children’s education; these are considerable expenses…So we avoid going out, and we’re not going on holiday”, she explains. “In previous years, we’ve tried to go and stay with family or friends, so as to get away for a bit, for the children’s sake… But this year, it isn’t possible, we have to work. I’m looking for any kind of job, in order to survive”, she adds. Pierrette is nonetheless concerned about her children, and the couple do everything they can to ensure they don’t feel they’re lacking anything or are different from others: “They’re enrolled for a month at a leisure centre, so they don’t get too bored…And we’ll try to get away for one or two days to somewhere in the region, not too far. But any more than that is impossible”.

Over the past six months, Franck’s situation has deteriorated dramatically: “My employer was paying me two or three months late. At the very end of last year, an argument erupted, and he used this as an excuse to sack me, claiming that I’d resigned. We were one of the first sectors to be affected by the crisis”, he says. Since then, he has not been able to find a permanent job, due to the current economic situation. He doesn’t even receive unemployment benefits because he is considered to have resigned, and has had to bring proceedings against his boss at an industrial tribunal. At 30, he was a sales agent in Paris, and earned a very good living, to the extent that he was able to treat himself and his wife to a month-long foreign holiday last August. “And now, I have to borrow money from my friends in order to be able to pay my unpaid rent…” As a consequence, a holiday is totally out of the question for the couple: “In practical terms, we have to choose: it’s either rent or holidays”. The decision is soon made.

Read the full report in Friday’s l’Humanité.


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