We want affordable holidays, we want to play it safe, we want reliable forms of entertainment and a maximum supply to satisfy our needs all within a short distance of one another. In short: our son wants his fun and we, his parents, want no stress. So we go to a Center Parcs resort in Hochsauerland in Central Germany. Center Parcs is a Dutch creation and a model example of McDonaldization. In the centre of the parks, which can be found in Holland, Belgium, Great Britain, France and Germany, there is always a subtropical family swimming pool with waterfalls, whirlpools, fountains and all the trimmings. Next to this there is also a holiday bungalow village with over 600 apartments,(making up 99% of the accomodation available). Families can live an independent everyday holiday life in these formatted apartments. Going shopping, eating out, amusements for children, video games, sport and entertainment are all available in the Market Dome, a giant attached indoor complex, through which music constantly resonates. Music such as the newest international family-friendly hits which, if you have sensitive ears, become stuck in your head after just two plays. We only go to breakfast in this terminal building, because the permanent whistling and blinking of special offer announcements triggers in our 6-year-old son the incessant ‘I want to have’ and ‘I want to play’.
Fast Food – Fast Holiday
The Center Parcs concept is flourishing. If you want to hire a bungalow during the school holidays you must book early. According to promoters 3 million visitors stream in to the 10 family parks every year - up to 90% of full capacity. What began in 1968 with the first park – a few bungalows in a forest with a modest swimming pool – has today grown in to a veritable ‘Fast-Holiday-Chain’. The attraction for the Central European middle classes is that they don’t have to travel far, they know exactly what to expect – because the Center Parcs resorts in different countries differ only in small ways – and also that the holiday is virtually independent of the weather as the majority of the entertainment is under cover. The strategy of the Center Parcs enterprise is aimed at short holidays. Many weekends are booked and even during the holidays few families stay longer than a week.
Like peas in a pod
The concept also works for us. After the 1-hour morning visit to the pool, our little water rat is tired out and thoroughly satisfied. Short excursions around the attractive surrounding countryside of Hochsauerland compensate for the all too sterile atmosphere of the park grounds and make it possible to escape the temporarily packed Market Dome. It's a shame, of course, that you rarely engage in conversation with other families, like in McDonalds where the notion of speaking to your neighbours at the next table never occurs. This McDonaldization blurs cultural differences and rather boils everything down into a distillation of Central European averageness. Not only are the resorts the same but the Europeans are like peas in a pod. Children wear T-Shirts with American slogans, parents Levi’s, shirts and all-weather jackets, Scandinavian mobile phones whistle and ring, people drive German and French family cars, and breakfast discussions rarely go beyond the tabloids of the respective country. This common ground makes communication easy, but why should people communicate?
Nutritionists agree that eating too much McDonalds' is harmful to the human body. Whether the one-dimensional satisfaction of needs in these ‘McDonaldized’ holiday paradises is damaging to European public health, or whether it is no less healthy than the regular consumption of Dutch gherkins and tomatoes, has yet to be debated. In any case we have reached a decision. For our next holiday we will return to the South on an independent trip, even if that means we don’t know what to expect every day.