Why Holidays Are Bad for You

By Hartley, Emma | New Statesman (1996), July 12, 1999 | Go to article overview

Why Holidays Are Bad for You


Hartley, Emma, New Statesman (1996)


Our kitsch vacations are an indictment of our workaholic lifestyle

Holidays are an intrinsically kitsch idea: kitsch in the sense of tawdry, vulgar and pretentious (often even - eek, darling! - populist). And British holidays in particular have more of the china kittens about them than those of many other countries.

The underlying reason for this is that we shouldn't need them: they should be redundant as a concept. That is to say, amid the confection of fancy ideas and chimerical thinking about portfolio careers and working from home, we shouldn't need escapism from our normal lives. Ideally people should conduct their existence in a way that makes holidays unnecessary: we should work at a more relaxed pace and for shorter hours. Instead Britain puts in the longest working hours in Europe. Inevitably, we also have the kitschiest holidays. (Americans, for reasons connected with long-term economic success, too much democracy and college students dressed up as eight-foot cartoon characters, are the exception that proves that particular rule.)

Overwork leads to exhaustion, a loss of will-power and finally to total passivity. That is why you are putty in the hands of even the most crass bugle calls: "Come on holiday to Cornwall" (or Blackpool, Torremolinos or Majorca).

So you mindlessly belt between one short break and another in a manner which is unhealthily short-termist and, quite frankly, not very relaxing. The promise of vacation as catharsis drives your blood pressure up a little bit higher all the time. It puts the holidaymaker (whether you be beachcomber or mountain climber) under ridiculous pressure to enjoy yourself immediately and vastly: you know that it will all be over too soon.

Simplify the case to the point of Utopian Marxism and, OK, it is not holidays but work that is the problem. But how, at this advanced stage of the day (and capitalism), can we meaningfully separate two sides of the same coin?

Yet holidays, unlike work, elude scrutiny to a large extent because instinctively - for survival - we have created a camouflaged, holiday-shaped space in the mainframe of our lives into which hopeless fantasies about the kind of people we really are can be poured.

Breaks - long or short - offer an opportunity to muse upon what the world would be like if it were our train set.

If you take a long enough or good enough break, it will probably occur to you at some point that the whole thing (work, holidays, bank charges) is organised for the benefit of someone else. But before you know it, mild indignation at this state of affairs flops gently into "might as well make the best of it", and this in turn rapidly segues into a kind of misty-eyed affection for something you can't quite put your finger on - especially after a couple of sangrias and at a great distance from home. …

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