Frankly … social Four snapshots of the holidays

Heads up for stress: the family holiday! – Everyone wants something, but everyone wants something different, or to do things differently. Maximilian Buddenbohm explains how you can manage to relax after all.

By Maximilian Buddenbohm

Beer garden guests sit under trees in a beer garden in Munich A beer garden in Munich – where could you find a better atmosphere right now? In Cologne, perhaps! | Photo (detail): Tobias Hase; © dpa
A family is heading for a railway station, they’re all arguing loudly and not exactly nicely. Suddenly Mum stops demonstratively in her tracks. She’s one of those people who are able to stop incredibly demonstratively in their tracks – it’s a high-level theatrical skill and takes a lot of practice, you can spot that straight away.  She jams the brakes on abruptly, dumps two suitcases down and throws up her hands dramatically: “Oh gosh, then just go without me!” Two steps later the other family members stop in their tracks as well, rolling their eyes and looking over their shoulders. From their exasperated expressions you can see that they’re working out whether to offer Mum reassurance, or just leave her standing there. Of course they can’t just leave her there.

“Cologne would be lovely now”

A father is spreading a blanket out on a beach in the Baltic, and kneels down to sort out the bags of food and toys. When he’s finished he looks up at his wife, who’s standing next to him shaking her head, a toddler in her arms. She comments: “You don’t seriously think you can put it down there where people need to walk – are you having a laugh? The man takes the bags and the rug, and throws the whole lot up in the air to land two metres further down the beach. His wife suggests separate holidays in future. 
There’s a couple sitting in a Munich beer garden, each with a beer in front of them. He says: “Cologne would be lovely now. There’s just such a great atmosphere in Cologne, you know.” Involuntary listeners aren’t told why that annoys his wife so much, but she replies almost at screaming pitch: “But we’re in Bavaria right now! Just stop it, will you!”
In the mountains Dad is facing his loved ones, holding a travel guide from which he’s reading aloud, presumably something about the place they’re in at that moment. His family are staring into the middle distance, bored expressions all round – and this guy loses the plot too: “For goodness sake, there must be something you want to do! We aren’t going to achieve anything here!” And he stuffs the guide into his backpack so roughly that the pages crease and tear. His wife feels the tension and fixes her gaze on the clouds.  

Full-on family time

These days there are barely any parents left – or indeed anybody at all – who don’t work at least part-time. There are more and more all-day schools in Germany. You need to realise what that means with regard to everyday life: people don’t spend much time together on a daily basis, because of course everyone’s out all day. Plus the fact that a lot of time at the weekend is given over to hobbies, friends and sport. So it’s not until you go on holiday that you suddenly all have to put up with each other. For hours, days, weeks at a time – holiday is instant full-on family time with no preparatory training. And everyone is likely to need at least a week to find that fine line of sociable peace between tolerance and resignation, to put up with and even get to like each other again, to form a new “Us”. At least, that’s if they haven’t all gone their separate ways for good by that point. 
It’s just a theory, but I reckon nowadays the fond holiday memories generally come from the second or even third week of the holiday – whereas everyone’s just getting through that first week.

“Frankly …”

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly ...” column series is written by Maximilian Buddenbohm, Qin Liwen, Dominic Otiang’a and Gerasimos Bekas. In “Frankly ... social”, Maximilian Buddenbohm reports on the big picture – society as a whole – and on its smallest units: family, friendships, relationships.