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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President Sarkozy makes a Bold Move that may have Negative Ramifications

Written by admin on June 26, 2009 – 11:42 am -

On Monday June 22, France’s President addressed a Parliament meeting that took place in Versailles where he addressed one of the most hotly contested social issues debated in France.

It’s whether or not Muslim women should be permitted to wear the traditional burqa that totally cloaks her body and essentially all of her face.

Sarkozy stated, “The issue of the burqa is not a religious one. It’s a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” President Sarkozy said, adding, “It’s a sign of the subjugation and the submission of women.”

“In our country, we cannot permit women to be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity,” Sarkozy said to extended applause from the lawmakers, who gathered for the meeting at Versailles, where French kings once held court.

But there were mixed messages in the mandate: an admission that the country’s long-held principle of ethnic assimilation that insists newcomers shed their traditions and adapt to French culture is failing because it doesn’t give immigrants and their French-born children a fair chance. President Sarkozy solemnly stated that the burqa would not be welcome in France.

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of France’s Representative Muslim Council, said he agrees with President Sarkozy’s position on burqas, calling them “an extremely marginal phenomenon.” His group promotes a moderate version of Islam. “When we meet women who wear burqas, we try to educate them and explain that moderation is a better choice,” Moussaoui says.

The unemployment rate for immigrants and their French-born children is higher than the national average. Many children of immigrants complain about discrimination, saying they get passed over for jobs because they have “foreign-sounding” names.

France’s three-week wave of riots in 2005 was partly attributed to the frustration felt by many children of North African and black immigrants over not being able to obtain jobs. They have fewer opportunities and less education than the average white French student.

Dalil Boubakeur, director of the largest mosque in Paris, said Sarkozy’s push to keep out the burqa is typical of French culture. Boubakeur is concerned this pronouncement might inflame tensions among Muslims. France is home to Western Europe’s largest population of Muslims, estimated to be between three and six million. A small but growing group of French women wear burqas and niqabs, which either cloak the entire body or cover everything but the eyes.

The French government has been divided on a burqa ban. Immigration Minister Eric Besson said a ban would only “create tensions.” His colleague Rama Yade, Junior Minister for Human Rights says she’s open to a ban if it’s aimed at protecting women forced to wear the burqa.

The burqa has come under criticism in some parts of Europe. In 2003, Sweden’s National Agency for Education gave schools the right to ban pupils from wearing burqas if it interferes with the teaching or safety regulations.

The issue of a whether or not women should wear burqas isn’t simply about costume but has more to do with women’s rights. Some people are concerned that there will be demonstrations.

But what the world has watched transpire in Iran may change Westerners’ perspectives. Many people with whom I spoke are of different opinions. Some say that no government has the right to dictate what people do or don’t wear while other people feel that people who are singled out as not melding into the mores of the society that they live is putting them at an enormous disadvantage.

What do you think? This is a sensitive issue and most especially right now.

For background and context on the burqa, access

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