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This weekend marks the official start of the great European summer holiday handover. If you’re not familiar with the concept, at roughly 15:00 hours on Sunday Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Danes (maybe the odd Icelander and Estonian, too) will ease out of beach loungers in Palma, pack up H&M holiday-wear strewn around rented apartments along the coast from Nice and fix “husvagnar” (camper trailers) to the backs of Volvos and Audis in holiday parks near Marbella and start the journey north for the start of the autumn season.
Come Tuesday morning, the streets of Gothenburg, Oslo, Turku and Copenhagen will be full of thousands of very tanned people trying to ease back into working life while still attempting to pull off a bit of Mediterranean style, with perhaps too much leg showing for the office, or a slightly inappropriate hat for a meeting with new clients.
Meanwhile, in Lyon, Padua, Seville, Thessaloniki and Porto, the working masses are counting the hours till they can switch on their out-of-office replies, lock up their laptops and roll down the shutters for three weeks of sun, rambling and relaxation. The French will head to their coasts and jump across to Corsica, the Italians will fill their beaches and go further afield to southeast Asia and Brazil (why you would want to leave Italy in the summer and tramp around Cambodia is a complete mystery to me), the Spanish will seek the cooler breezes of the Canaries, the Greeks will mostly be found splashing around their lovely islands, and the Portuguese will also stick close to home, splitting time between cooler days spent up in the hills and more active stretches enjoying the bracing Atlantic surf.
And then, of course, there are the rest of us – toiling away in towers in London’s east and Hamburg’s harbour, in office parks around Munich and outside Zürich and in ateliers in Antwerp and St Gallen. From factory floors in Bristol all the way to the eastern edges of Vienna, there is a hard-working “middle band” that keeps Europe ticking over while everyone else is out spraying on their Piz Buin and enjoying a second bottle of rosé before lunch time.
For sure, London may not always be the most efficient place (at a later date I will return to the newly opened Terminal 2 at Heathrow and ask how it’s possible to go so wrong with wayfinding, and to have such a poor and predictable retail line-up) but Europe should count itself lucky that this big metropolis doesn’t down tools for a set period and leave the world waiting for things to kick in again three to four weeks later. The same can be said for certain pockets of Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and Austria.
Of course people take holidays in these countries but there’s not this mass demobilisation that increasingly feels slightly out of step with the rest of the planet. I know all the arguments for why it makes sense for everyone to go away at the same time and how this makes for a more harmonious work environment in Swedish and Norwegian companies. It’s not, however, as if Swedish businesses operate exclusively within their own borders, or that Norwegians also don’t take another three to four weeks out across the rest of the year.
The notion of shutting your nation off from the rest of the world (and all the opportunities that go with it) is hugely outdated – particularly at a time when so many countries have service-based economies that rely on tourists to keep them ticking over.
What is the point of the city of Stockholm attracting cruise liners from the end of June through July when many of the city’s best establishments are closed? Why try to attract special seasonal flights to Barcelona and Madrid and then leave visitors wandering around struggling to find something more inviting than chain-style tapas eateries? Aside from the fact that it doesn’t make good tourism sense, it also does little in the way of creating a climate where citizens can engage with the rest of the world.
A lovely but naive woman from the Nordic world recently told me she had been surprised when a deal fell through with a Taiwanese company that had been taken aback by the fact school holidays could get in the way of business. “They couldn’t understand that we have our holiday in this part of the world and they’d have to wait a month to come and see our facility.” I’m not sure if I blinked or winced when she said this, or a combination of the two, but I told her that it was perhaps better for Asian-European relations that the deal had collapsed and that she could get on with picking blueberries and running her company just as she always had.
For all those middle-band European nations that still put in the hours, there’s an opportunity in all of this: an air, land and sea tax should be charged to all of those fellow Europeans who criss-cross our borders en route to their holidays – while we stay open for business.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine