There’s been a lot of talk about “repos dominical” around here lately. Every time I hear the phrase I imagine a priest having a late afternoon cup of tea, but it really refers to the right of French people to relax on Sunday, and (most importantly) not work. Worker’s rights have always been a hot subject in France, but this week the issue is not the right to work, but the right not to work. While the original idea was to observe the Christian Sabbath (I wasn’t so off base with my tea-drinking priest), the holiness of this day now revolves around the idea that the government should keep workers from being overworked. Thus, almost all stores and businesses are obliged to close on Sunday.
When I first moved here from New York City, the thought of a store-free Sunday was frightening. After all, I was used to being able to buy a toilet brush at 11pm on a weekday. Then one Sunday I looked out the window and saw entire families strolling down the Promenade Plantée and it struck me that I rarely saw entire families doing much of anything in the Big Apple. I thought, maybe it’s worth not being able to buy thumbtacks at a moment’s notice if it means strengthening family ties and upholding cultural traditions. (This was before I learned that those same traditions can turn around and kick you in the butt when you are married to them.) I got used to organizing my life differently, and enjoyed the quiet ambiance of a city Sunday.
Anyway, here’s what happened: when the court ruled that certain giant DYI chains do not have the right to open on Sundays, said monster hardware stores defied the powers that be and opened anyway. It was a sort of anti-strike, where instead of refusing to go to work, employees refused to not work. You see, these mega-stores have been open on Sundays for some time now, due to a recent softening of regulations. But one of the smaller chains did not get the same dispensation and went to court to complain that it was unfair. Instead of saying, “gee, you’re right, why do only the big chains get to stay open?” the court simply closed down the big chains too. Not surprisingly, the big chains were outraged, saying that not only would they lose money, but the workers would also lose precious pay. Thus, the anti-strike (see ABC news article for details).
It all seems pretty ironic to me. The government, and the unions (who seem to have taken over from the church on the Sunday question), both trying to protect the worker, are keeping the workers from working. Which seems like a strange stance to take in the middle of a huge financial crisis when unemployment is a national problem. Not that I’m a big fan of huge chain stores, mind you. I’d prefer to pay a little more and go to the local hardware store where I won’t have to wander around for an hour looking for a package of screws. But I think all stores, big and small, should be allowed to open on Sunday. Not only would it provide jobs, but it would take a load off your 9 to 5-er, who currently has to do all his or her shopping on Saturday (note to tourists: avoid shopping on Saturdays in Paris unless you enjoy hand-to-hand combat). True, it means that Sundays would lose their hallowed Sabbath status, but if they can handle it in hyper-Catholic countries like Italy and Spain, I think they can deal with it in “secular” France.