Friday, August 13, 2010

Lazily Wasting Away the Days

Tonight we leave to spend the evening with my brother-in-law and his wife before heading back to the French Alps for a large family holiday. I'm excited, not because it means a fortnight without work (it doesn't. I'll still be hacking away at the word count on my dissertation.), but because it means a fortnight where I'm not stuck in the apartment all day by myself.

I know I complain, but to be fair, I do go to the gym to get out, I do run errands and go to the library, and I do look for jobs and internships and community orchestras to join. But it is an unfortunately soul-crushing set of circumstances to be living well outside of normal visiting distance of all friends. Far enough for a day trip, if you don't want to get anything else done that day, but too far for a quick evening out or a frozen yoghurt run.

But, delightfully, after the sight of those unholy hours of the morning before the sun is up, we'll be on the ferry and then coasting through France back towards the Alps where we spent our honeymoon. I've come to quite enjoy living in and near mountains. It means skiing and hiking and lovely scenery. And in Utah it means a lack of humidity that my naturally curly hair blesses with every strand of its being.

This sort of family holiday is something outside of my ken. I've never gone on vacation with my family just for the heck of it. Okay, maybe once when my sister and I were young and we went with our parents to see Lurray Caverns and Mount Vernon in Virginia. But on every other trip away from home - to Boston, to New York, to North Carolina, to West Virginia - we've always been going for usually the sole purpose of visiting family. My mother and sister do not camp, so we've only once gone camping as a family. I think that was the experience that proved the point that they most emphatically do not camp. Our trip to Boston one year for the Fourth of July was a chance to do some Colonial-era sightseeing in the city where my mom grew up...but we also met up with her oldest brother and his family for a day since he lives up in Massachusetts.

A vacation just to get away, not to visit anyone. It's weird to me. Weird in a nicely extravagant way. I have to try not to laugh when my husband and mother-in-law make apologetic statements about how the family doesn't do these sort of holidays very expensively like other families do. I mean, I'm definitely not like a poor inner city child who's never seen a real tree that wasn't held up with rubber bands and construction materials, but going to a chalet or a cabin for two weeks every year just wasn't something our family ever did. To be honest, with the way American companies ration the time you can take for vacation or personal days, two weeks off work even to stay home and clean the house would have been an unheard-of luxury! I mean, I know that some companies have schemes where you graduate through years of service to earning more vacation time per year, but when my husband is working his first year in a graduate scheme and has about twice the vacation time as my mother whose been in the same profession for most of my life, and with the same company for nearly 3 years; that's pathetic.

It's one of the things that makes me appreciate living in the UK. Don't get me wrong - I'm incredibly patriotic in my way, and I do love my country. I love the opportunities I have as a US citizen, the education I received, the fact that unlike my youngest brother-in-law, I got all my vaccinations compulsorily as a child and don't have to suffer through them now, the lower taxes. (Not that I've ever had to pay taxes, but still.) But in spite of everything I love about my own country, my adoptive country certainly has its merits over the US.

1) I love the NHS. Maybe that's because I've never had to experience any of its inefficiency, but I always know how much I need to pay for a prescription or a dentist's appointment and there are no worries about getting the insurance set up or figuring out the terms of a co-pay or any of the logistical nonsense I've dealt with before during doctors' visits back home.

2) The culture that allows for 25 days of guaranteed leave is brilliant. It means that we can take time off to relax and recuperate if we need it. My husband and I can join in on the family holiday to France without having to miss out on going to visit my family for Christmas. Vacations actually feel like you've had a rest and a break from everyday life.

3) The increased ease of getting around via bicycle. I know the US is getting better about this in some areas, and I know I don't go anywhere on the bike, but my husband does, and it's nice knowing that the road systems cater to cyclists so that he can commute safely to and from work.

4) The train system isn't sketchy. Aside from the occasional AMTRAK trip, I've almost never heard of anyone taking the train to travel in the States. The trains here are easy to find and navigate, and seem to be relatively inexpensive, all things considered. I like not having to depend on owning a car to get around. Living out of London and in a small town as we do, we have a car now, but it's nice to know that most of the time it isn't a necessity.

*As a note to that last statement, I have to give credit where credit is due to the Eisenhower highway system. I don't so much care that 1 mile of every 5 is meant to be straight to land planes in case of an emergency, but I love the frequency of rest stops. That's something the English could stand to learn: if you're on a long car trip, you need to be able to stop and take breaks without going 5 miles out of your way to navigate around some Hot Fuzz-esque village. When we drove back from France, the last leg of the trip from Dover to home was murder precisely because there was nowhere decent to pull over and switch drivers. Get with it, Britain. Get with it.

Meanwhile, I will pack my bags and look forward to the efficiency and frequency of the Aires of the French motorway system.

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