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The importance of tourism in France this summer

Jean Viard, director of research for the CNRS at the Centre de Recherches Politiques de Sciences-Po, spoke to Connexion about the importance of the prime minister’s announcement that tourism can go ahead in July and August.

How important was it for the French to be told they can go on holiday this year?

The summer holidays are vital to France, because tourism is a hugely important sector in the economy but also because they are an essential ritual. Societies have always had a period in the year which marks a break in normal life. In Europe, holidays play that role, replacing religious festivals. This year has been particularly difficult, so we will need to be able to rid ourselves of 2020 so far to make ourselves ready to start again in September.

Do you think these holidays will be different?

They will be shorter, closer to home, and with fewer people than normal. But because they will be different, we will remember them for a long time. I don’t expect you remember easily what you did in 2004, but I guarantee you will remember your 2020 holidays.

Will we be able to benefit from these holidays as much as others, when we are likely to be anxious about going somewhere different and mixing with other people?

It will be an adventure, and in the lifetime of a person, an adventure is something magnificent. Five billion of us were confined at the same time – an unimaginable event. People have died and doctors have been working terribly hard. There were problems on how to go shopping and look after elderly relatives. But this doesn’t negate the fact that we are living an adventure.

We are about to come out of this period and we don’t quite know what the future holds – there may no longer be a right and a left in politics, the market economy has been greatly shaken up, and we have a period in front of us which will be chaotic. But something is happening and we are curious.

What we will remember is the historic event we have experienced, and we will be able to say: “I was there for the great confinement.” But for those who lose their jobs it is disastrous. I don’t think it is great for everyone. But I don’t think there will be mass unemployment, perhaps because I am an eternal optimist. Our factories have not been destroyed, the infrastructure is there, and the State has put in a lot of financial measures. In 18 months, we should be back to normal.

Will we be able to get back to normal social relations soon?

It will be strange not kissing people when we meet them. We are social animals and it will be no joke hiding behind a mask. But I think we will quickly learn new social codes of when to wear and when to take off a mask, and that will depend on whether we know, and have confidence in, the people we are with or not. For a while, we will go back to what it was like in the 1960s when we didn’t embrace people as often. Later, we will get back to our contemporary habits.

How have people experienced the confinement?

To say it was terrible for everyone is an exaggeration. At least 60% of people in France have a garden, and it is the season for planting and pruning and being outside. Most of us in Europe live comfortably, with a sofa and a television. In a way, it has come at a good time, with a society linked by digital connections, so we are really not as isolated as we would have been before the phone and computer. We have not heard of a huge rise in suicides, or alcoholism or drugs, which are the usual indicators of a society in crisis.

It was hard for people combining work and looking after children, and for those in the poor suburbs. There has been a worrying increase in violence against women but that still remains relatively marginal. It is in the Third World countries where people have really suffered. But in Europe, for people who have not been working and have been at home, it has often been a positive experience.

Read more: the remarkable life and death of France's 'first feminist'

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