Conservative supporters hail the law as a reformist boost for France's recession-stalled economy. But detractors on both the left and right just as energetically decry it as a vulgar consumerist assault on tradition, families and even French democracy. "We've got better things to propose to our fellow citizens than a life of commuting, sleeping and buying," lamented André Lardeux, one of many senators from the ruling Union for a Popular Majority party who defied President Nicolas Sarkozy by voting against his pet law to liberalize Sunday commerce. [...]I sometimes wish we had the chance to turn back the clock here in America, to return to a time when most businesses were closed on Sunday. I also imagine, wistfully, our ancestors who complained about a 9 to 5 workday--what, I wonder, would they think of the plight of so many of our salaried employees today, who are expected to work ten or twelve hours a day with no overtime at all? But the two issues, Sunday shopping and the 60-hour workweek, go hand in hand.
Sunday shopping a threat to French civilization? If Darcos' assurances sound excessive, they only reflect the resistance his Sarkozy-mandated bill has provoked. Leftists continue to assail its move to undermine a 1907 law prohibiting Sunday trading as only the first step toward the very generalization of travail dominical that Darcos denies. They also vow to challenge the law before France's Constitutional Council on the somewhat ironic grounds that by allowing only some shops to operate Sundays, it violates the rights of employees who may want to work on Sunday but whose shops are not covered by the reform.
Dissenting conservatives, meanwhile, denounce the law as a threat to an array of social and cultural traditions rooted in the seventh day being one of rest. They warn that family gatherings, leisure activities and even church attendance will suffer greatly as people are forced to don the dominical yoke of labor. Where will the next Renoir get his inspiration for another Bal du Moulin de la Galette? What would Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte be without the Sunday bit? And how to defend the colors against the neighborhood rival if your goalkeeper and best center forward are down at the mall selling garden furniture?France — or at least parts of it — will soon find out. And how will a society famous for being rabidly protective of its leisure time, long vacations and nominal 35-hour workweek respond? Probably with a Gallic shrug. Polls show 55% of French people oppose the law and 42% support it. Still, 40% of respondents say they'd heed a boss's call to work Sunday if it meant making more money, while another 30% say they'd welcome the chance to shop on Sundays.
Because if so many Americans weren't at work between the hours of 7 a.m. Monday and 7 p.m. Friday, it wouldn't be necessary for so many businesses to remain open on Sunday. There would be plenty of time during the week to run errands and take care of legitimate needs, without filling a Saturday and spilling over into Sunday to complete these chores. Life could be much more relaxing and enjoyable, and there'd be no pressure to work 24/7, to spend most of one's waking hours at one's place of employment and then be "on call" over the weekends, as well.
People might have time to have their neighbors over for Sunday brunch, or spend a quiet Saturday puttering around in a workshop. They might spend long, lazy weekend afternoons reading a book or working on an art project. There would be time for conversation, reflection, and peace of the soul.
France is on the verge of beginning the process of becoming just like us. I hope, for their sakes, the Sunday shopping laws prove so unpopular that they can go back to a kind of normal Americans haven't seen for decades.