Europeans soak up summer; U.S. workers get no day at beach

This is the time of year when I envy my Euro friends. They’re preparing for their six-week vacations while we in Los Angeles settle for a Sunday barbecue.

In Italy, summer vacation is a form of theater. On the Riviera, the French are bronzed and Prada-clad (who cares about the economy!) and in Germany in August, everyone gets naked (who cares about the beer bellies!). In Greece, where retirement starts at 53, everyone’s heading for the beach because, when you’re broke, it’s important to take a vacation from your vacation.

Hollywood’s denizens this year seem too tense to schedule a break. “You don’t feel like going away for two weeks amid budget cutbacks,” observes one studio executive, who preferred not to be identified. “You worry that your vacation will become permanent.”

The talent agencies shut down during the last two weeks of December, but increasingly summer means business as usual, sans vacation. “It’s tough to get off the grid,” acknowledges one agency executive. “If you go away, you find yourself spending all your time answering emails or reading scripts; you might as well stay in the office.”

Those at the top of the totem pole in film or TV still manage to hit the Hamptons or float on a yacht off Croatia, but vacations increasingly are an elitist pursuit. For the working stiffs, the workload is expanding and there is a pervasive tension in the workplace. Americans now work on average 122 hours per year more than Brits and 378 more hours than Germans. In almost every industry, productivity has grown sharply as companies practice a new form of offloading — cutting employees and assigning their work to the remaining staff. Productivity increased twice as fast last year than the year before, with the result that corporate profits are up 22% since 2007, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

The upshot is that everyone is working his butt off and is essentially too insecure to enjoy a vacation. Offices are even being designed so that everyone is impelled to work harder. The Gensler Co. boasts that it creates offices with side walls that are mostly glass so managers can keep tabs on their colleagues.

Does all this make people nervous? John Galliano, the ex-Dior designer, explained in a French court last week that though he’s been caught hurling ethnic insults in public places, this behavior should be forgiven. It all stemmed from “pressures in the workplace,” he explained. (His Dior bosses fired him anyway).

The demise of the summer family vacation takes a special toll on the kids, to be sure. Children like to hit the beach or at least the mountains. As Lori Gottlieb wrote in the Atlantic this month, today’s parents lavish time and tutors on their kids and fret about their state of mind. “Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy,” she writes, “The American Dream has morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way.”

That’s fine as an ideal for the kids, but meanwhile, how about the parents? They’re too scared to take a week off in summer, so what sort of message of happiness does that send?

Maybe the kids should all be sent to summer camp in Greece, and the economy be damned! Peter Bart

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