19 October 2013

En famille

A beautiful gate and doorway in Aix's Villeneuve quarter
Weekends are family time in France.  People tend to spend their time en famille (together with family at home), or at a second family home or with relatives.  Some go into town together like in Aix, where we see many families in town on Saturdays; the grocery stores and marchés fill up with them, and once the holiday season starts, parking is very, very difficult on Saturdays.  (This year, the season may be starting sooner than later as the city workers were stringing the holiday lights on the plane trees along cours Mirabeau already this week.)  Sundays are another story.  Then, most towns and villages are quiet and almost lifeless, with shop windows shuttered and restaurants open sporadically.  For those of us without family here, or for tourists, there is not much to do on a Sunday.  Our family frequently has a championnat football game to attend on Sunday morning (this is what the French football federation seasonal games are called), and we appreciate the chance to have a slow morning, but Sunday afternoons are really empty, except for the cinemas which are open.  I take a lot of walks and pictures on Sundays, but not of people because the streets are so quiet.  The photos here were taken on recent Sundays.  My guys watch a lot of tv or spend time on the Internet.

Sundays are protected by French law, for le repos dominical (Sunday rest).  In secular times, this day off work has been reinterpreted to mean a day to spend en famille, resting and relaxing.  So most shops are closed, by law.  Year-round, a few exceptions are made for special commercial or touristic zones: a large shopping area between Aix and Marseille is open during the day on Sundays, and in Aix, a number of grocers are open until midday while a shopping street has a few shops open for a few hours in the afternoon outside of the holiday season.  These openings are in part justified by the needs of tourists and visitors to have access to some commercial services on otherwise deserted Sundays.  (The rules during the holidays are a little looser.)  For now, other businesses are trying to get in on the Sunday opening hours, such as home improvement stores, the owners of which argue that even the ordinary French would like broader access to shops on Sundays, perhaps to bricoler (do repairs or household maintenance work) a little bit on a Sunday afternoon.  That is certainly how we often spend our Sundays in the U.S., running to the hardware store for supplies so we can putter around the house.  So far though, such stores in France have not been successful in getting the right to be open on Sundays. (see "No late-night shopping please, we're French," by Leela Jacinto, France 24, 3 Oct. 2013.)

Nevertheless, this is a perennial discussion in France, about which shops should be allowed to be open and for how long on the weekends, and it seems that eventually, one will see more stores open on Sundays, not just for the tourists and expatriates, but for ordinary French families too.  For those with dual working parents, having broader access to grocery stores and hardware stores would seem to be beneficial.  It took me nearly a half year in France before I was able to figure out how to replenish our larder sufficiently and efficiently on Saturday so that we would have enough food through Monday morning (and I still don't understand how French parents do it).  As I mentioned above, on Saturdays, the grocery stores and even my beloved marché down the street are crowded, so crowded that I often want to avoid them altogether. (Wednesdays are another bad day, particularly for grocery shopping, with grade school kids home from school).  The local shopping area that is open on Sundays, that I mention above, is an even greater nightmare on Sunday, with traffic jams, crowds at the restaurants, and long lines at check-out. Clearly, there is a demand for Sunday opening hours among the French, and with the current unemployment rates, there are surely workers and students eager to fill the ranks of weekend sales and grocery clerks.

A graffiti filled stairwell on the east side of Aix

No comments: