The Heated Sunday Shopping Debate

Written by admin on July 11, 2009 – 2:22 pm -

When I first moved to Paris, I was amazed stores weren’t open on Sundays.  If you wanted to do any real shopping, you were out of luck.

A law in 1906 forbade shopping on Sunday. A few businesses, like bakeries, butcher shops and other small stores were allowed to be open in the morning so Maman could buy the ingredients for the day’s lunch. Sunday lunches were sacred and the time when the family would gather.  Besides, this has been useful for fiction writers who wanted to work out their familial demons

But it’s a new world and President Nicolas Sarkozy is taking on the “Sunday cause” with renewed passion. He has proposed a bill that is being debated in the legislature. If passed, stores could open.

Sarko’s blood pressure rose this past June adding new ammunition to his case.  He had to call the children’s store Bonpoint on the Left Bank and ask for it to be opened for Mrs. Obama and Malia and Sasha. “Is it normal, when Madame Obama and her daughters want to go shopping on a Sunday, that I have to make phone calls and ask a store to open?” the French President asked. “How are we supposed to explain to them that we are the only country where shops are closed on Sunday?” he said last week as MPs geared up for the latest legislative fight.

This isn’t a new concept. But it’s been shot down for the past 20 years and opposed by the church, unions, conservatives in Sarkozy’s center-right party and the Left.

This latest proposal would allow shops in designated tourist areas and special commercial zones to open on Sundays and specifies that employees can work on that day on a voluntary basis in order to placate the unions.

But it’s a Catch-22.  Paris’s Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, a leading member of the Socialist Party, is opposed to classifying Paris as a tourist zone. “Sunday is a day of rest respected by most citizens. It must not be sacrificed to this vision of a deregulated economy that doesn’t take into account the family and personal lives of workers.”

“The world is changing and we need to stop burying our heads in the sand,” states Richard Mallie, a deputy from Sarkozy’s UMP party and one of the authors of the bill.

Dismissing French opposition to Sunday shopping as irrational,” Mallie defended the bill as a necessary answer to the huge rise in on-line shopping and demands placed on modern working couples.

Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign promised to allow more shops to open on Sundays. His government argues the measure would help cushion the blow that the recession has dealt to the job market, estimating that 15,000 jobs could be saved.

For example, Paris’s Galeries Lafayette has said it would create between 300 and 400 jobs and boost sales by 10 percent if the store were allowed to open on Sundays.

As an American, I think stores being open on Sundays would facilitate life for many families where both the husband and wife work. Most people are betting the bill will pass.  But some feel that allowing stores to open on Sundays will diminish the quality of life in France. Clearly some people do maintain the family lunch tradition. But does it need to be every Sunday?

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