When we first moved to France, one of the hardest things to get used to was the seemingly random opening hours of shops and restaurants.
For instance, our local ‘convenience’ store is usually open from 8am til 12pm then 3pm til 6pm, but that may change if they get a late delivery, or if the store holder feels like kicking back for an extra-extra long lunch. Then you have to account for annual leave (two weeks closing), Saturday afternoons and Sundays (closed) and late opening (one day during the week, which one escapes me – but the afternoon hours change to 4pm to 7pm). Convenient is hardly the adjective I would use.
That said, you get used to it, and after some months, the idea of having to come up with something else to occupy you on a Sunday (other than spending money) becomes a welcome and creative challenge. Many French see Sundays as the ‘family’ day – a chance to spend some quality time together, to enjoy a traditional ‘Sunday Lunch’ (remember that?).
For me, Sundays have become an essential part of my week. Eliminate the option of ‘going shopping’ from your Sunday routine and you start to appreciate the infinite number of possibilities other other things you can be doing with your free time. You spend more time with your family and friends, and quite simply ‘get out more’. It’s healthy and, if you ask me, an essential element of a caring-sharing society.
My view fifteen years ago was quite different however. When Sunday trading was introduced in the UK I considered those who opposed it as fanatics. Why wouldn’t being able to buy a pair of pants (say) on a Sunday afternoon be a good thing? The stores would be happy because they’d make more money, and we’d be happy because we’d get to shop in a less crowded environment. End of story.
What I, and so many other Brits, didn’t realise was the knock-on effect that Sunday trading had on society as a whole. It replaced the one day we had for ourselves – with commerce, materialism and money (and alcohol too some years later). No longer did we have to think about ‘what to do at the weekend’, because we could just keep on doing what we did the rest of the time. Working or spending money.
Arguably this seeded the credit crisis, Britain’s ASBO culture and general pursuit of happiness through material gain (property, bling, burberry) and thereby reinforced the values of personal gain over those of social cohesion and well-being.
It is with great sadness then that I see the push for 7/7 commerce is finally making headway in conservative France. I pray that it will never come to pass, but I fear that under Sarkozy (or Uncle Nicola’ if you prefer) the French will blindly stumble down the same alley as the British.
Sure, it may be inconvenient to have to wait a whole 24 hours to pick up a pair of clean pants, (and lord knows the French make some great pants!) but the price of that inconvenience is the dissolution of one of France’s most precious assets: la fraternité.