Family holidays with friends: a survival guide
It was while renting a gîte with friends in the Dordogne in 1943 that Jean-Paul Sartre completed the play that would make him immortal: No Exit.
Putting down his pen, he finished the last page of his masterpiece and looked around, thinking it might be time for lunch, or possibly some smoking and looking sad. He closed his eyes momentarily, enjoying the heat.
A child emerged as if propelled from the bushes, ineffectually wrangled by its harassed dad. Sartre watched in horror as the boy grabbed his manuscript and threw it in the pool.
He gasped as the ink flowed from his painstakingly crafted pages into the water: gone in an instant, as if it had never been written. He rounded in fury, about to erupt…
“Sorry Jean-Paul,” shrugged his fellow guest. “He’s a right little terror! Kids, eh?”
Before Sartre could give expression to his rage, he was being shouted at from the kitchen: it was time for him to make lunch for eight adults and 27 children, then wash up, help load up the Renault Espace and separate Jemima and Fred, who were fighting over which Peppa Pig episode to watch.
The exhausted philosopher slumped in his patio chair, wishing that he had gone on that solo cycling holiday of Norway.
As instructions to “remember to make a gluten-free option for Molly” rang in his ears, he picked up his pen and began a new play. “Hell,” he wrote, “is going on holiday with other people.”
His words ring as true today as they did in 1943 when he didn’t write them. Renting accommodation with other families and their children is among the trickiest manoeuvres in adulthood’s manual.
It all seems like a great idea when plans are hatched after a Sunday lunch in the winter: let’s go on holiday together, share the driving, the kids can entertain each other, we can barbecue and all muck in. You fools. You poor naive fools.
Donald Rumsfeld, no stranger to catastrophic excursions abroad, put it best when he classified the potential problems of holidaying with friends in Provence into known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
In the former category, character traits that you might find endearing or, at worst, a little annoying at a dinner party or pub lunch can become flashpoints on holiday. That friend who is always just a fraction slow to fish out the credit card when the bill comes, the old pal who seems to somehow always buy just one round if the two of you have three, the “I didn’t have a starter” merchant… tolerable on a monthly basis, seriously grating if you are eating a dozen meals out together.
Worse than tightness is chaos. The friends whose tidiness, organisation or punctuality leave plenty to be desired can be charming on home soil, but not when you are obliged to share quarters with them.
You wait, in a hired car whose internal temperature is giving the sun a run for its money, for them to emerge from their lair. You start to wonder how they get anywhere, ever.
You watch them in the kitchen and marvel at how they manage to feed themselves and their offspring without all catching something debilitating or fatal. By the end of the fortnight you are hoping it is the latter.
The opposite, equally draining, is the pal whose exacting nature is a source of gentle teasing back in Albion, but who, in the crucible of a cramped cottage, is revealed to be a dictator.
Every person or family has their own measure of how relaxed they are about logistics: it’s not until you’re in a temporary tribe that you realise how esoteric yours can be or, put another way, how utterly wrong and vile your companions are about everything that matters in life.
Levels of cleanliness, efficiency, competitiveness and parsimony can at least be inferred from non-domiciled friendship.
The full picture of what other people are like at home can be hidden behind the veil until you gaze directly upon its unvarnished horror in a shared bathroom. You just don’t know what goes on behind closed doors until you are behind them.
You always knew that Lou liked a drink; you just didn’t realise that meant a couple of litres of gewürztraminer for breakfast. How could you have guessed that Chris likes a solid hour in the loo every morning, a loo that is being shared by a dozen others and which now requires military-grade Hazmat decontamination anyway?
And yet all of these horrors pale when compared with being cooped up with other people’s children. A week with someone else’s brats in confined digs, isolated, perhaps several miles from the nearest place to buy a baguette, a newspaper or a bottle of brandy and a service revolver: this can cause a philosophical rethink in even the least contemplative soul. I mean, you can’t really hate a three-year-old, can you? You’re just not that sort of person.
But what if you’ve just watched him torture an unfortunate feline passer-by, clout another child around the head, wake you at the sixth consecutive dawn with an operatic tantrum? And all this under the benevolent “boys will be boys” gaze of someone you thought shared your world-view.
The urge to say something can be overwhelming. It is never a good move.
Being surrounded by your friends’ offspring brings into play the one truly friendship-torpedoing argument. Never mind money, Brexit, or whether those chicken legs are just a bit on the rare side or a potential piece of evidence in a coroner’s court, the surest route to ruining a relationship with your pals is to criticise their parenting. It cannot be done. Yet their children, perhaps, cannot be borne. So why put yourself through living in a house with them?
All you wanted was a sun tan and a bit of a rest. You got to live with the world’s smallest, nastiest flatmate on a holiday in hell.
Here’s how to survive ….
DO have your own car: this at least gives you the facility to go on a day trip on your own or with your family, or even make a quick getaway.
DON’T share cooking if you have differing expectations. If you spend four hours making exquisite five-course meals and are then given dried pasta and bottled sauce the next night, you’ll be bitter.
DO take earplugs: couples arguing and “making up” afterwards and nocturnal children can ruin a holiday.
DON’T holiday with people who have radically different approaches to refuelling. If you look at the wine list and say, “yes, one of each”, but your companions prefer to be in bed by 10 with a warm drink, it’s not going to work out.
DO take plenty of things to do if it rains: board games, iPads, Xboxes, DVDs, a full range of nerve-soothing, over-the-counter and prescription medications.
DON’T go anywhere that does not have easy access to shops, pharmacies, things for kids to do, off-licences, cash machines and heliports if it gets really unbearable.
Source: Telegraph online