One of the big headlines in today's paper was the 450,000 euro fine imposed on Ikea (everyone's favorite furniture store) for being open without permission three Sundays last November. While we've been lucky enough to not have had a reason to go to Ikea, I have to admit that I've been a bit stumped about Sunday openings and closings myself. The market on our corner is locked tight as is the bakery just down the block. But the nearby market street with its cheese shop, fishmonger, butcher, bakery, and greengrocer is usually humming until around 1 in the afternoon. Restaurants appear to be open or closed willy nilly. (Actually a lot of restaurants are closed on Saturdays too.) Other stores are almost always closed on Sunday although some of the big retailers will occasionally have an "overture exceptionnellement." (This just means an opening out of the ordinary but it sounds so special in French.)
So the news about the fines sent me to the Web where I did my best to piece together just what the heck is going on. Like most things in France, the history is long. A 1906 law prohibits Sunday openings by nonfood retailers to preserve a time for rest, family, and presumably prayer. Over time, exceptions have been made at the discretion of local governments, for example, to allow shops to open five Sundays a year, or in the case of shops dedicated to sports, home improvement or in some tourist areas, to open many Sundays. President Sarkozy proposed sweeping changes in these rules as part of his platform of economic reforms, in part to boost the economy and in part just to give some relief to working families who must now compact all their errands into Saturday. But small business owners are worried about getting creamed by large chains and the unions want to preserve the sacred day of rest. So the reforms have been back burnered. Rest assured that we haven't heard the last of this.