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COVID-19 Forces Europeans To Change The Way They Vacation


COVID-19 has forced people around the world to redefine what they mean by vacation. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this report from a European vacation spot, an island off the west coast of France.


ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Sailing lessons are still going on as usual on the island of Noirmoutier. The classes are just smaller, and the students don't share their life jackets and wetsuits. The boats are also wiped down every day. Olivier Moiseau is head of the Noirmoutier Sailing club. He says they're dealing with it.

OLIVIER MOISEAU: Everybody in France have to wear a mask. So we wear masks. It's easy, you see?

BEARDSLEY: Do the kids have to wear a mask on the boat?

MOISEAU: Not on the boat. Only on the beach. When they start to sail, they take off their mask.


BEARDSLEY: At the local market, the only ones who don't seem to be wearing masks are the fresh-caught bass on ice. Fishmonger Benjamin Tavernier peers out from behind his glasses and a light-blue face mask. He says he feared the vacation might be ruined this year, but there are more tourists than ever.

BENJAMIN TAVERNIER: (Through interpreter) Since the beginning of August, everyone is here like there was no pandemic at all. There are lots of French people but also Belgians and Dutch because the borders are open.

BEARDSLEY: This summer, Europe is for the Europeans. The usual buses of Chinese tourists are missing. And Americans are banned because of their high rate of infection. In France, unlike the U.S., there hasn't been pushback against government efforts to contain the spread of the virus.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: This public service announcement from the French health ministry shows two young people on their beach towels, shouting at each other from a safe social distance. The ad urges people to enjoy the summer but keep up their guard against the virus, which is still out there.

At Noirmoutier's market, fruit and vegetable seller Damien Thibaut has a unique face mask which covers his entire long beard. He says a friend gave it to him, and he treasures it.

DAMIEN THIBAUT: (Through interpreter) For me, the mask is essential for getting through this pandemic. And I think it's our duty to protect one another by wearing masks.

BEARDSLEY: The Sommers family, on vacation from the Netherlands, are all wearing face coverings. Mother Muriel says they feel safe.

MURIEL SOMMERS: So we're from Holland, the four of us. And we're having a summer holiday here in France. We rented some bikes this morning. So we're cycling around the island. Yeah, it feels good.

BEARDSLEY: COVID-19 has forced the French, big world travelers, to stay home this year. But there's no question of giving up their August vacances.


BEARDSLEY: The Lallement and Thevenet families made the seven-hour drive from the Champagne region. They've spread out a picnic on the beach.

SOPHIE LALLEMENT: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "No, there was never a question of not coming this year," says Sophie Lallement. "We've waited for this for so long. It was important to come in August."

The families admit this year's vacation is a little different. They're not going out to restaurants. They've each brought their own picnics tonight. And they're keeping their social distance as they crack open Champagne on the beach.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Noirmoutier, France.


Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.