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The Sunday Phenomenon

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Because of this, for a lot of us France would be an incredibly frustrating country to live in.

One Sunday during the first few weeks after I moved to France to study abroad in 2011, I realized my stock of food in my closet sized dorm room had run low. ‘No problem,’ I thought to myself, ‘I’m lucky there’s a small grocery store down the street!’

Bee-bopping down the street to the store, I began to notice a general lack of people wandering the streets. ‘This place is dead. It’s 11:00 AM, are the French going to sleep all day?!’ I asked myself.

Upon arriving at the store, I was shocked to see the big metal cage pulled down around the windows and entrance, signifying it was closed. ‘Closed?! What kind of place is this!’

I continued to walk farther into a residential area where I knew lots of bigger grocery stores were located, thinking that bigger chains would be open – no luck. Not a big deal, I remembered a nearby inexpensive restaurant that was good – fermé,closed. Beginning to become frantic, I quickly jaunted to my local boulangerie, bakery – not open! Back to the dorm I went to see if the cafeteria, my very last resort, was serving lunch – all locked up.

This was the first of many times I went hungry on a Sunday. (This time it was because I didn’t know about the Sunday phenomenon. The rest were due to poor planning – growing up involves some hard lessons.)

You see, in France Sunday is still a day of rest. Historically a Catholic country, many century-old traditions have carried over to modern day French life, and even though the majority of the French don’t attend Mass, Sunday is still considered a day to be shared with family. The only businesses open on Sunday are florists and the occasional boulangerie -the only people who leave their homes are heading to a family dinner, where they take fresh cut flowers, boxed up pastries, and baguettes. The afternoon is reserved for eating, drinking wine, relaxing, and catching up with loved ones.

Businesses actually generally aren’t allowed to open on Sundays, legislation that is highly contested today by those who want to adapt to America’s way of business. When I was a teaching assistant, my French supervisor told me: “Yes, it is a bit inconvenient when all the shops and restaurants are closed on Sunday, but on the other hand it means that the common worker is assured one day a week to spend time with the rest of their family.”

We all lead busy lives – even the French aren’t spared stress and busy-ness. But regardless of their hectic lives, they still designate one day a week to stop and smell the rosee. As they say: Il faut prendre le temps de vivre, we must take time to enjoy life.


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