Each year I have to explain to my friends that I’m not going on vacation with them. Ever. And it’s not because I don’t like them. It’s because I do like them, and I want to keep it that way. Vacationing together would just screw it all up.
Unfortunately, my friends don’t buy this logic. Some of them take it personally. Some are jealous (they think I’m going with other friends). And others just think it’s a phase, as in John needs to be alone for a while. And for the most part, it’s the French who are saying all this, most of whom find it very normal to go on vacation together.
What they can’t imagine is that I’d be actually quite detestable in a nice place, or that they’d easily bore me after a few days. They overlook the cultural differences that exist between us, cultural differences that flare up during holidays together. Differences I found out all too clearly a couple of years ago, when I went on vacation with French friends, for the first and last time.
And it was on this trip that I learned why the French like to take vacations together. It’s because they like to do things in groups. Maybe it’s from all those Louis De Funes vacation films they grew up on or their embedded sense of Republique, or perhaps they haven’t quite eradicated the colonie de vacances out of their system. Because my week in Tuscany seemed just that – a week in summer camp.
Before I could settle in and take a dip in the pool, I was told there were activities planned, but they weren’t called activities, more ateliers “workshops” so it sounded more enriching. There was an atelier abdominale, atelier painting, atelier philosophy, and atelier stand-up (who do you think was asked to run this atelier.) Breakfast was to be prepared on a big platter and everyone was expected to eat together on the porch at 9 AM sharp. I’m glad you’re reading this actually, because if this sounds like your kind of vacation, then erase me from your contacts.
I was in Tuscany. I had dreamed of gorging myself on mozzarella and jambon but the rest of the group was on a diet, so there was never that much left over. We were the only ones with kids and nobody understood why I didn’t want to take my kid to a 12th-century monastery. I got stuck with the hot room because we were the last ones to get there. I won’t go into more detail because it’s too sad to describe, but just know it involves smuggling mozzarella in my swimsuit everyday, sleeping on the porch because I was too hot in my room, coming face to face with a wild boar because I opened the downstairs door to get air and countless times screaming into my pillow that I didn’t want to play pool volleyball for the semi-final. The rest of the trip, if you need to know, was me much like Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot on his holiday, hiding from everyone, trying to avoid everyone’s togetherness.
Maybe my vacation was extreme, but even judging from my weekends with French friends; I see that nervous tic flares up of them wanting to always do shit together. In the US, we don’t. Each family has a car. Everyone makes sandwiches for lunch and eats at their own hour. No ateliers, no breakfast platters – everyone for themselves in the great liberal tradition of the US. Because (and maybe this is the perverse thing with Americans) if we were to hang out and spend time with each other, we might find out we’re not really friends.
But not everybody knows this anti-vacation side to me, so when people ask me what I’m doing this summer (as a way to see if we’ll spend it together) I’m forced to lie, lie and lie more.
I tell them I’ve already reserved the dates long in advance, or that I’m already going with other people (who they don’t know, because they don’t exist), that I’m going to a place, they’d never want to visit- “It’s Ohio this summer”; or that “I’m off to the states on a “home exchange.” (This is the best one because people have the impression I have no control over the situation and that only one family is allowed.)
I realize it’s a bit dommage; me letting this phobia get between me and my friends. And hell, maybe these people don’t even want to go on vacation with me anyway. Maybe they’re just offering me their villa in Spain for free. I’ve probably missed great opportunities, but I can’t risk it.
The problem I’m facing right now is I’m running out of destinations. One group thinks I’m going to Portugal while the other thinks it’s the US. And I can’t remember who I told where. Also, I can’t remember which place I’ve told my friend I’m not going, so god forbid I run into him there. Plus the dates are getting all mixed up. For those going on vacation in July, I’ve told August, and the people leaving in August, are thinking July. Now I’m just telling people “we’re moving to the country” to cover the whole summer, but that’s risky too because now they might want to come and visit.
The worst of it all is having to hide in my own neighborhood once summer starts, me scared to be seen by the friends who assume I’m en vacances. I wear Isabelle Adjani big sunglasses and a Truman capote hat now, and I walk around with a map to make it look like I’m not from here. The only problem is my dog. Everyone knows it’s me if they see him, plus I’m sure he’ll tell the truth if they ask. He likes my friends and wouldn’t have a problem going on vacation with them. He could even offer up his own atelier while we’re in Tuscany together, calling it « Let’s find the hiding John. »