Sunday shopping is the frontline in France’s work-life balance war

July 30, 2013

(Tourists stand in front of the closed entrance of the Galeries Lafayette department store during a Sunday morning walk in Paris, July 28, 2013.  REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)

Every Sunday in Paris, crowds of tourists clamber up the hill of Montmartre towards the gleaming white Sacre Coeur Basilica, pausing by the clothing and gift stores that dot its cobbled streets.

Under France’s Byzantine rules on Sunday trading, those at the top of the hill are in a designated tourist area and so can open, but those at the bottom cannot, and risk a fine of 6,000 euros ($8,000) if they do.

“It’s absurd,” said Sylvie Fourmond, head of a grouping of 180 “off-zone” shops around the Moulin Rouge end of Montmartre that are increasingly defying the law on Sundays.

“To get to the top of the hill tourists don’t come by helicopter with parachutes. They walk up our streets and peer into our windows,” she said.

The battle over Sunday trading in this neighborhood – once home to artists including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali – is part of a broader fight in France between the champions of deregulation and those defending a deep-rooted social model that treasures leisure time.

The unions that fiercely guard France’s 35-hour working week and the churches of this mostly Catholic country oppose Sunday trading. But as recession bites, public attitudes are shifting.

Read the full story by Natalie Huet here.

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