France Rethinks The Sanctity Of Its Day Of Rest

France Rethinks The Sanctity Of Its Day Of Rest

8:34pm Nov 08, 2013
A woman walks amid both open and closed shops during a Sunday morning stroll at the Butte Montmartre in Paris, in July. Under France's Byzantine rules on Sunday trading, shops at the top of the hill are in a designated tourist area and so can open, but th
A woman walks amid both open and closed shops during a Sunday morning stroll at the Butte Montmartre in Paris, in July. Under France's Byzantine rules on Sunday trading, shops at the top of the hill are in a designated tourist area and so can open, but th
Christian Hartmann / Reuters/Landov
  • A woman walks amid both open and closed shops during a Sunday morning stroll at the Butte Montmartre in Paris, in July. Under France's Byzantine rules on Sunday trading, shops at the top of the hill are in a designated tourist area and so can open, but th

    A woman walks amid both open and closed shops during a Sunday morning stroll at the Butte Montmartre in Paris, in July. Under France's Byzantine rules on Sunday trading, shops at the top of the hill are in a designated tourist area and so can open, but th

    Christian Hartmann / Reuters/Landov

  • Home improvement retail chain Bricorama is one of several stores that have opened their doors on Sundays in defiance of the legal ban.

    Home improvement retail chain Bricorama is one of several stores that have opened their doors on Sundays in defiance of the legal ban.

    Bertrand Guay / AFP/Getty Images

  • Dozens of trade union members and workers demonstrate in front of an open shopping mall in Paris last year. Labor groups are leading the push to keep the ban on Sunday work.

    Dozens of trade union members and workers demonstrate in front of an open shopping mall in Paris last year. Labor groups are leading the push to keep the ban on Sunday work.

    Fred Dufour / AFP/Getty Images

There's a fight going on for the soul of France. Since 1906, Sunday has been deemed a collective day of rest in the country, and French law only allows stores to open on Sundays under very specific conditions — for example, if they're in a high tourist area. Sunday work is also tightly controlled.

But some people are questioning the sense of such a tradition in a languishing economy and 24/7 world.

A giant banner stretched across the opening of home improvement store Bricorama reads: "Open Monday through Saturday. It's unfair we can't serve you on Sunday!" Bricorama had to shut its doors on Sundays after unions filed and won a lawsuit. A Paris court recently upheld the ban on Sunday work.

Home improvement retail chain Bricorama is one of several stores that have opened their doors on Sundays in defiance of the legal ban.

Home improvement retail chain Bricorama is one of several stores that have opened their doors on Sundays in defiance of the legal ban.

Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

Inside Bricorama, 42-year-old employee Jean Martinez says he's earning $300 less a month now. The staff is furious, he says.

"No one was forcing us to work. Everyone was happy — employees, bosses, customers. We earned overtime and got an extra day off to boot," Martinez says. "The only party that wasn't happy was that wretched union."

Stores that choose to flout the Sunday work ban are fined $135,000 per day. Some of the larger home-improvement chains went ahead and paid it to stay open. Bricorama has filed an appeal.

On the eastern edge of Paris looms the monolithic headquarters of what Martinez calls "that wretched union," the General Confederation of Labor, known as the CGT. No doubt impressive in its heyday in the 1970s, the building seems a little worn today.

But Stephane Fustec, general secretary of the CGT, says the union's ideas are not passé. He says a collective day off is even more important in today's world, where family links are weakening.

"Everything is deregulated now and we live in an increasingly individualistic society," Fustec says. "So we need this one fixed day a week where everyone can come together and share experiences and life."

Dozens of trade union members and workers demonstrate in front of an open shopping mall in Paris last year. Labor groups are leading the push to keep the ban on Sunday work.

Dozens of trade union members and workers demonstrate in front of an open shopping mall in Paris last year. Labor groups are leading the push to keep the ban on Sunday work.

Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

He adds, "Why should China be our model?"

While many Americans may head to the mall, the Sunday lunch is still sacrosanct in France. In Paris, you see many people carrying bouquets of flowers to decorate the lunch table.

But many young people don't feel bound by such traditions. And with unemployment at its highest in a decade, many say it's senseless not to let people work if they want.

So far the French government has supported the court's ruling. One politician said the greatest civilizations always have one day of the week when trade does not take place.

Jean Yves Naudet is a professor of economics at the University of Marseille Aix-en-Provence, and a member of the association of Catholic economists.

He says there are good arguments on both sides, but he questions whether economics should be the only consideration in determining the social structure of a nation.

Tourism officials in Paris fear losing visitors to London, where the Sunday shopping debate was resolved 20 years ago.

A recent poll showed two-thirds of the French are in favor of allowing stores to open on Sundays — as long as employees aren't forced to work.

Back at the Bricorama, father of three Alexandre Gabriel is buying some supplies. He calls the Sunday work restrictions crazy.

"You can still go and buy some tools — some nails and hammer — and have a good lunch with your family. You know, I think it can still be done," he says. "In fact, you're more relaxed because you don't have to worry and rush everything in on Saturday."

Gabriel thinks things are changing and there will be a breakthrough.

The French are very conservative people, he says, and need time to get used to new ideas.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

To France now, where stores that want to open on Sunday have to meet strict requirements. Since 1906, Sunday has been deemed a collective day of rest in France. The law allows stores to open only under very specific conditions, for example if they're in a high-tourist area. Sunday work is also tightly controlled. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that these days some people question the sense of that tradition, given a languishing economy and a 24/7 world.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A giant banner stretched across the opening of home improvement store Bricorama reads open Monday through Saturday. It's unfair we can't serve you on Sunday. Bricorama had to shut its doors on Sunday after unions filed and won a lawsuit. A Paris court recently upheld the ban on Sunday and night work. Inside Bricorama, 42-year-old Jean Martinez says he's earning $300 less a month now. All the staff is furious, he says.

JEAN MARTINEZ: (Through interpreter) No one was forcing us to work. Everyone was happy, employees, bosses, customers. We earned overtime and got an extra day off to boot. The only party that wasn't happy was that wretched union.

BEARDSLEY: Stores which choose to flout the Sunday work ban are fined $135,000 per day. Some of the larger home-improvement chains went ahead and paid it to stay open. Bricorama has filed an appeal.

STEPHANE FUSTEC: (Speaking foreign language)

BEARDSLEY: On the eastern edge of Paris looms the monolithic headquarters of the CGT union, no doubt impressive in its heyday in the 1970s, the building seems a little worn today. But general secretary Stephane Fustec insists the union's ideas are not passe. He says a collective day off is even more important in today's world, where family links are weakening.

FUSTEC: (Through interpreter) Everything is deregulated now and we live in an increasingly individualistic society so we need this one fixed day a week where everyone can come together and share experiences and life.

BEARDSLEY: Why should China be our model, asks Fustec.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

BEARDSLEY: This old video shows families enjoying vacation and Sundays off. While many Americans may head to the mall, the Sunday lunch is still sacrosanct in France. In Paris, you see many people carrying bouquets of flowers to decorate the lunch table. But many young people don't feel bound by such traditions. And with unemployment at its highest in a decade, many say it's senseless not to let people work if they want to.

So far the French government has supported the court's ruling. One politician said the greatest civilizations always have one day of the week when trade does not take place. Jean Yves Naudet is a professor of economics at the University of Marseille Aix-en-Provence, and a member of the Association of Catholic Economists.

JEAN YVES NAUDET: (Speaking foreign language)

BEARDSLEY: There are good arguments on both sides, he says, but Naudet questions whether economics should be the only consideration in determining the social structure of a nation. Tourism officials in Paris fear losing visitors to London, where the Sunday shopping debate was resolved 20 years ago.

A recent poll showed two-thirds of the French are in favor of allowing stores to open on Sundays, as long as employees aren't forced to work. Back at the Bricorama, father of three Alexandre Gabriel is buying some supplies. He calls the Sunday work restrictions crazy.

ALEXANDRE GABRIEL: You can still go and buy some tools, some nails and a hammer, and have a good lunch with your family. You know, I think it can still be done. In fact, you're more relaxed because you don't have to worry and rush everything in on Saturday.

BEARDSLEY: Gabriel thinks things are changing and there will be a breakthrough. We French are very conservative people, he says. We need time to get used to new ideas. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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