Monday, November 24, 2008

Things I Don't Miss About Paris, Part One

There were a lot of things about life in the U.S. I tended to take for granted before living overseas. Aspects of daily life that seemed unremarkable simply because I was used to them suddenly became fascinating occurrences when they were stripped away by another country's rules. Now that I'm once again living stateside, I love relishing in the small details that are so eternally exciting to me. Graffiti-free cities, clothes dryers, fellow human beings who make room for you when you're walking towards them, and to-go coffee shops have all become objects of wonderment. I just can't believe they exist! But there is one feature of American society that thrills me beyond anything else. France has me so programmed to their weekly routine that I sometimes forget it even exists. When the memory of it pops into my head, I enjoy the excitement of it all over again. I'm talking about shopping on Sunday, and I will never take it for granted again.

Those who know France know how about Sundays. Nothing is open. Ok, not nothing. There is always at least one 24/7 pharmacy available, some boulangeries will sell you a baguette, and in big cities like Paris there are a few retail establishments that dare to open their doors on the traditional Christian day of rest. But in general, you can expect to be greeted by a big, steel gate and a fermé sign if you even attempt to engage in consumption on Sunday. Small villages are practically on lockdown. Even such daily essentials as grocery stores don't open on Sundays. If you've spent any time living in France you know the feeling of boredom that comes around once a week. I used to dread this horrible day when I lived in a tiny town in the south of France. With not a single open storefront the place felt even more like a ghosttown than it already was.

Now, some people will say that they love the idea of everything being closed on Sundays. It encourages rest, relaxation and time spent with friends and family. I say, what about those who find relaxation in wandering the aisles of a department store? What's more, being able to shop on Sunday might actually decrease stress and increase family/friend time. Have you ever tried to get groceries in France on a Saturday? It's one of the most stressful, time-consuming things you'll ever do! Since stores are not open late during the week and not open on Sundays, everyone has to run errands on Saturday. The country might only have 60 million inhabitants, but you can be sure they'll all be at the same store as you on Saturday afternoon.

I avoid the craziness that is shopping on the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. like the plague, but the citizens of France are forced to buy under similar conditions once a week for their entire lives. This Turkey Day, I'll be giving thanks for the blessed, under-appreciated freedom to shop whenever I like. Especially Sundays.


Nomadic Matt said...

i hated how everything was closed on sundays. It made it really hard to go shopping!!!! I can understand closing on sundays if you are open late on the weekdays but they don't even do that!

it's a real adjustment from 24 hr america!!

Tanya said...

Matt: you've totally hit the nail on the head - not open on Sundays + also not open late at night = no time to get anything done! This could be a whole other post: why French stores close at 7pm or earlier.

Tanya said...

I just noticed that the photo I used for this post is fairly ambiguous. Doesn't really look like anything in my opinion. For the record, it was taken from a third floor balcony inside the Mall of America in Minnesota. Also for the record, this is my favorite place to shop, and yes, they are open on Sundays.

Fida said...

That is so interesting. By the way, you forgot the Saturdays: stores close after 4pm or even earlier. I grew up in Europe and lived there until my mid 40s. Interestingly, living in Canada, I lost interest in shopping - Sundays open or not. Everything seems to be the same. Once you visited one Mall, you've seen everything. That need for consumerism is one of the very few disturbing things for me here. A lot of people don't seem to know what to do with themselves if they can't go shopping. What’s more, I had to get used to hearing all kinds of noises on Sunday: mowing grass, sawing trees, hammering, drilling, renovating... my Sunday’s peace and quite? Out the window :-)

Tanya said...

Fida: I agree with your assessment on consumerism. It's gotten out of control. I think the economic crisis is forcing everyone to take a look at their buying habits and reassess their wants vs. their needs. This might be a positive consequence of the whole deal.