When I first bought my house in France almost a decade ago I was stunned to find that shops didn’t open on a Sunday.Coming from London I was used to early closing on a Sunday for some shops but almost all shops open 7 days a week there and I’m sure in most of the UK and possibly the rest of the world!
I saw the house of my dreams on a cold Friday in February, signed the paperwork at the notaire’s office on a warm Wednesday in May and eventually came out to spend my first weekend in the house in June.
Part of the joy of having a home in France is being able to eat French food and shop at French markets and supermarkets and to buy fresh, local, seasonal produce – not plastic wrapped food.
As it was our first sojourn in our new house, the OH and I knew we’d have a ton of work to do the first day to unpack and clean up so we took food with us leaving ourselves free for Sunday.
We figured on Sunday morning we’d go and get some herby sausages freshly made in the supermarket butcher’s section, some locally produced bacon from the same place, some fabulous French cheese and fresh country bread for a leisurely brunch.
Imagine my surprise then on driving to our local town on the Sunday morning to discover all the shops were shut except for the boulangerie. This apparently was the norm.
I actually grew to love the fact that shops were shut on Sunday and every day for two hours so that the workers could have a long lunch break. Shops have been closed on Sundays in France for more than a century due to a 1906 law.
Over the last few years though, things have been changing and I’m always being asked “Do shops open on Sunday in France?” The answer is yes… and no. There are clauses in the law that allow certain shops to open on Sundays such as florists, furniture stores and fishmongers. Supermarkets open on Sunday mornings in most towns these days. Gradually more and more shops have been opening on the supposed day of rest. Some shops have been opening illegally and recently some of the big DIY shops have been ordered to close on Sundays – it appears they are not exempt from the Sunday shops closing or opening rule. Despite government attempts to try to update the complicated and impossible to comprehend Sunday trading laws here, there is still much confusion about this increasingly volatile issue.
For my neighbour M-T it is not a problem. She tells me that she has never in her whole life set foot in a supermarket; in fact she’s hardly been in any shops at all. For most of her nine decades her mantra has been if she couldn’t grow it, breed it or make it – she didn’t have it. Whilst I admire this attitude tremendously I love chocolate shops, boulangeries and patisseries too much to ever consider giving them up. I sometimes fantasise that if “Survivor” really happens, and the whole world as we know it comes to a sticky stop where shops shut and we all just survive a-la-caveman, I will settle in a supermarket store room for as long as the supplies last. When I start to think about making my own toiletries – toothpaste, shampoo, mascara I’m half way to palpitations and as for making my own clothes, well, it took me a year to sew a pair of curtains so that’s not going to happen, though I did once make a boob tube dress in an afternoon which promptly split when I wore it to Bembon Brothers Funfair in Margate what seems like a life-time ago.
So do shops open on Sunday in France? I think it will happen eventually but I’m pretty sure there will be several (thousand) debates first.