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Austerity strikes across Europe

For the past decade, I have been dreaming of returning to Europe. Finally, after much saving and downsizing, my husband and I had a 3-week trip in sight for April 2013, specifically France and Spain. A recent article about the austerity strikes, tourists locked out of the Alhambra because its workers were on strike, people eating out of garbage cans, losing their homes ..... has me concerned. I know a lot can change in 6 months for better or worse. Those who live in Europe or have been recently, can you give me an 'insiders' view? Is the media blowing everything out of proportion? I know that the French love their right to strike and have heard stories of once-in-a-lifetime trips being marred by trains not running, museums closed and such. Am I being a worry wart for naught? Will locals resent us as perceived "rich Americans" who, if I'm not mistaken, they see the US as a culprit in their financial mess?

Posted by
9363 posts

I spent three weeks in Spain in May. I also have friends who were born and live in Spain. The recession was clearly going on, but what it meant for tourists was really good prices in the stores and restaurants. It was not, however, a somber place, or scary, or sad. People have lost their homes here, too, and whether we want to admit it or not, there are also people eating out of garbage cans right here in the US. Yes, there are demonstrations sometimes in some places, but they are easily avoided. My friends have had no interruptions in their lives - no job or home losses, and it hasn't affected their travels, either. As to whether anyone will resent you as "rich Americans", they won't. They don't blame the US, they blame their own government. Even if they did blame the US government, they would not blame individual Americans. No one was anything but completely welcoming and friendly everywhere that I was. Hotel clerks chatted with me about the American flag on my credit card, and my "beautiful" passport, with the photographs and quotations in it. They really couldn't have been nicer. Personally, I would not worry about it.

Posted by
8293 posts

Where on earth did you get the idea that the US is being blamed by Europeans for their financial problems?

Posted by
59 posts

Norma, because I have heard Americans blame Europe for our issues, I figured it could be tit for tat:) I was in France when the US invaded Iraq and the French were marvelous to engage with and as always, I was treated kindly. But difference in politics can't be compared to issues of survival like food and housing..... Sorry if I sound like a worry wart. It's just that this will likely be my last return trip to Europe and of course, I want it to go well. Time will be tight and if the countries are striking at tourist sites, trains, etc., we won't have the flexibility to hang around till it's over.
So any reassurances that I'll have a trip of a lifetime and I'm just being a paranoid worry wart are most appreciated!!:)

Posted by
59 posts

Nancy, I was at a flea market in Rouen once. Hit it off wonderfully with one of the sellers. He started eating his lunch and insisted I share his fries while my friend was busy rummaging through clothes she wanted to buy. I speak French poorly but I make do. Anyway, a French woman came up to haggle over an item and she said in French, "How much? I'm not a rich American." I could tell the seller was embarrassed by the remark, but I laughed it off. Guess I have a complex about stereotypes of "rich Americans." I'm not rich at all, but travel is my obsession.
Thank you for your encouraging input!

Posted by
638 posts

As with Normas post about where did you hear about Europeans blaming America for their problems, where did you hear about Americans blaming Europeans for our problems. Granted both places are going through some difficult times but the domestic problems are unique to each individual country and not related to each other. In some conversations one might hear Americans with concerns about China but I've never heard Europe brought into it.

Posted by
11450 posts

Trisha, I have never heard Europeons blame Americans for their problems, they blame their own governments, and I am absolutely gobsmacked that Americans blame the Europeons for their problems, really , they do? Shame on them ! I was in Paris and Barcelona this july and august, I didn't see or sense any serious issues, I do know however they are having protests in both Rome , Milan and Barcelona right now.. and some have turned ugly, but as normal tourists are not generally affected by these things, I mean if I was a tourist I wouldn't go to a protest rally, and they aren't just running higgly piggly down all the streets and rioting, they are meeting in places and having protests though. But, six days from now could be totally under control, never mind six MONTHS from now. Also, and I say this all the time, do you think that Europeons know you are American just by looking at you, I realize they may know you are not Europeon, speaking english being a big give away, but there are also Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians and Brits who speak english, so its not automatically assumed you are American unless you are asked and confirm it. Not suggesting being American is wrong or bad ( I am often asked if I am American, I wear same brand of clothes, have same accent as most western Americans) and I have never felt I was poorly treated because they assumed I was American. BTW strikes do happen, but I have never heard of them lasting more then a day two usually, and in Paris they are usually always given warning. Even when their is an "action" they try and maintain some basic services .. RER from airport still runs , but alot less frequently etc.

Posted by
59 posts

Pat, after living 30 years in Texas, I'm afraid I don't have much success in 'blending' in:)ha! My twang instantly gives me away. But I do appreciate your voice of reason and logic in regard to avoiding any demonstrations, coping with possible strikes. Thanks! It was just what I needed to hear.
The more I read y'all's posts, the more I realize my need to travel; the world view my circle of relatives/acquaintances on Facebook present is not very encouraging.

Posted by
13381 posts

Street demonstrations and the occasional car burning are a European cultural tradition. Dont let it bother you. Its a world economy so the problem and causes are pretty evenly split. I imagine the finger pointing goes in just about every direction. Actually the last survey I saw indicated, depending on the country, that somewhere betwern 20% and 35% of the European people did blame one particular group for their woes and that group being blamed was not the Americans.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Will locals resent us as perceived "rich Americans" who, if I'm not mistaken, they see the US as a culprit in their financial mess?" As the others have noted, no, the focus of the protestors anger for the most part is not the US, but their own governments, the EU, the IMF, the World Bank and Germany. Strikes are usually announced in advance, and if demonstrations become violent, they are easily avoidable. The only anger I've seen directed against the US on the local news here was a far left protest in Greece, but those groups always seem to blame the US for every and anything that goes wrong... If you're worried about transportation strikes disrupting your plans, my advice would be to keep a flexible itinerary and limit the number of changes of location. Perhaps pick one or two cities that have plenty to see and do in each.

Posted by
11613 posts

I don't think it's a question of "blame", but fear of the domino effect, since the US/Western hemisphere and European economies are closely tied. It's a good reason to wish each other well and demand that those charged with finding a solution, so so. I was in Italy last summer during some labor-dispute strikes, and it did not affect tourists at all. Travel right now is like everything else in life: we can't control everything that happens, or ensure a perfect trip. I was in Emilia-Romagna during the earthquakes last summer, and they affected museums and churches being closed (while damage was assessed and restoration begun), but those are the realities of real peoples' lives.

Posted by
893 posts

I wouldn't worry about Austerity measures in Europe Union member countries affecting your travel in France in April 2013. You're more likely to be affected by protests due to proposed immigration changes, or some group upset about a cut in their retirement benefits, or, well, just about anything. I'd be more concerned about booking a trip to the Greek Isles. We were considering that for Spring 2013. We had a great time going to Egypt with a French tour operator last year, and I discovered they've canceled all their Greek vacations for next year. I took that as a sign that planning to hop around Greece probably wasn't a good idea.

Posted by
59 posts

After posting my initial question and reading everyone's comments, I've come to realize that there is a part of me that feels a little 'guilty' about traveling. I don't want to get into a political mudbath here but I often compare what's happening today with the French revolution scenario: the monarchy living in their gilded house of mirrors while Parisians were starving to death. Today's modern equivalent is Sotheby's setting records for $375 million in sells of bad art (sorry if you are a Rothko or Warhol fan:) I ask myself: how can a person spend $75 million dollars on one piece of art and sleep at night with people going hungry and homeless. And yet, here I am, planning on spending $15K to see piles of bricks, mosaic tiles and cement blocks:) The difference is, of course, that the Marie Antoinettes don't go without to buy their art whereas I've sold my car, downsized into a place that is 30 years old (oh my, I don't even own a smart phone!ha!) -- all so I can travel. Perhaps what I feel isn't so much as 'guilt' but a fear that I would be perceived as one of the Marie Antoinettes and I don't want to be.

Posted by
2193 posts

"Today's modern equivalent is Sotheby's..." An auction house is the equivalent? Hardly! Try the executives at Countrywide, HSBC, Chase, Wells Fargo, WAMU, Citi, USB, Barclay's, Deutsche Bank, Santander, U.S. government, EU, individual European governments, IMF, etc., etc., etc. That's your modern-day Louis, Antoinette, or Romanov. And while I have read nothing about Europeans blaming the U.S. for their jacked-up economies (although they could...it's all intertwined in this globalized economy), I distinctly recall reading many articles where politicians on both sides of the aisle, talking heads, and business elites here have blamed Europe's problems for hampering a recovery here. Germany is getting a lion's share of the blame in places like Greece (which is sort of funny since Germany seems to be one of the only countries in Europe who can actually manage an economy). If you're somehow all fearful, guilty, and hung-up about vacation, just go to a more prosperous place: How about Norway or Korea?

Posted by
59 posts

@ Micheal, not Sotheby's specifically but the buyers there. Funny you mention Norway. I just got a birth announcement from an online friend from Norway. She writes often on her blog about the cutbacks, penny pinching going on there. I'm beginning to think no place is immune. And as you mention, globalization has us all on the same sinking ship. My 3 weeks in Europe isn't a vacation. It's ambrosia for my soul.(Semantics, I know:) Being grounded and having my wings clipped for the past decade have been hard on me, to say the least.
I am a Francophile and Norway's too cold for me. My husband has become obsessed with Spain and we're set on seeing the Alhambra upclose. So France and Spain it is!

Posted by
11280 posts

Trishia, you will only perceived as Marie Antoinette if you act like Marie Antoinette. If you are a respectful visitor, the locals will either ignore you and go about their lives, or be happy you are visiting. So, just don't go around throwing euros (or worse, dollars) at homeless people, and you'll be fine.

Posted by
59 posts

Thanks again to everyone for their comments, information and encouragement! Exactly the attitude adjustment I needed. The worry wart has been sent to its room without supper....:)

Posted by
59 posts

James, I'm not feeling that guilty:)! Thanks again to Sarah and the others for explaining to me how the strikes work. Knowing that it's not something that will go on and on but something we can easily work around is encouraging.

Posted by
2964 posts

I was going to say before Harold beat me to it, that spending money in Europe right now is a really good thing for the European economy, and from everything I've experienced, people in areas affected by the global recession are grateful for each and every tourist they get. I would just try to keep aware of news about planned strikes (they're always planned!) in the weeks and days before your trip, and as Tom said, try to keep your schedule flexible so if there's a transit strike that you find out about a day or two in advance, you can switch plans and do something that doesn't involve a train ride. April isn't high season anywhere (unless you're going during easter break) so you should have room for flexibility.

Posted by
13381 posts

If you are going to feel guilty, then feel guilty about having the money, not about spending it. There are charities; (choosing which one can be a problem) and the Department of the Treasury does really take contributions and then spends it on wonderful acts of good as congress sees fit; so you dont have to choose which charity. Both very good options if your heart pulls you that way.

Posted by
8251 posts

Trishia, If there are strikes that close a tourist site, and your heart does seem sympathetic to the plight of the have-nots, you might want to ask the strikers about their situations. The conversations you have are part of travel and learning about other cultures.

Posted by
59 posts

Bets, I'd be very tempted to join in and strike alongside them:) You are so correct. I had many interesting conversations with the French folks in 2003. Although they did not like Bush, they were tres sympathique with Americans. the 9/11 tragedy -- and most tolerant of my poor French.

Posted by
13381 posts

Trishia, I am relieved you are surviving the guilt. I've been to one Central European city during 3 different street upheavals. The worst lasted a day and a half. I loved every one of them. There was a fourth that resulted in a quick negotiation and a cross country road trip from Romania (instead of a train trip); and it was a trip of a life time. Now back to the guilt. I know this really great old shul in Budapest that could really use a few dollars.

Posted by
7406 posts

Trishia from your original posting and additional comments, you sound like a very thoughtful, empathetic person. I'm sure both France and Spain will be honored to have you as a visitor! Go enjoy the fruits of your labor.