Members’ Q&A: Why are so many shops in France closed on Mondays?

Members' Q&A: Why are so many shops in France closed on Mondays?
Photo: photography33/Depositphotos
Pose your burning questions about France and the French and we'll try and answer them. Here we look at why those "fermé" signs go up on Mondays in France when every other country is starting the week.
Foreigners especially new arrivals often cite it as one of the most frustrating and bemusing aspects of living in France.
You desperately need to post a letter, buy some medicine or visit your bank, but there you are standing in front of the “fermé” sign surprised that France seems to have shut down on the first day of the week.
For French people, this is perfectly normal. Monday is for some a second Sunday and if shops are closed, well, it’s something you just have to get used to. 
In fact if it weren’t for the big retail stores and the American chains, the streets in many smaller French towns might seem very empty come the start of the week.
But where does this tradition of closing on Mondays come from?
The reason lies in France's enshrined labour code, the Code du Travail, which was first published in 1910. 
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The Code du Travail used to say that it was illegal for anyone to work more that six days a week and that workers should have 35 consecutive hours of rest. It was also at one time, illegal for people to work on Sundays. 
That meant that people who worked on Saturdays, which mostly included those working in shops and services like banking and postal workers, had to take off Sunday and at least Monday morning, with many getting the whole day off.
Today in France, nearly half of employees in France work on Saturdays, according to a 2014 study by France's national statistics office Insee. 
And, despite changes to the Code du Travail, the tradition of Saturday workers taking off Sunday and Monday as a sort of delayed weekend has stuck. 
But things are beginning to change and whereas once upon a time, towns and villages across France would have been completely dead on a Monday, these days things are starting to look at least a bit more lively at the beginning of the week. 
That's because since the 1980s, the Code du Travail has been tweaked and it is no longer illegal for workers in certain industries to go to work on a Sunday nor do they necessarily have to be given 35 hours of consecutive rest. 
“Before the 80s, it was illegal not to give your employee two consecutive days of rest in the week,” Eric Sherrer, president of the SECI-UNSA retail union told the Local.
“The law changed to accommodate chain supermarkets and businesses but this tradition has continued, especially in the rural areas of France and for independent workers.”

As a result, people working in many different kinds of shops selling fresh food, including butchers, cheese shops and bakers, as well as non-food shops located in tourist hubs are legally able to work on Sundays. 
And today, more and more employees in France are working on what was traditionally a day of rest. 
In fact, in 2015 18 percent of the total French workforce was working on Sundays, according to French newspaper Les Echos. 
But even though French President Emmanuel Macron's spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux has said he's “quite in favour” of Sunday work, Sherrer believes that having Monday off is very important to French people. 
“Having Monday as a day off helps both [owners and employees],” he said.
“It gives owners the chance to do important administrative work while workers get two consecutive days off to really enjoy their free time and dedicate themselves to family life, which is more feasible than when someone has two random days off in the week.”

“The fact that so many employers want to give workers’ their Mondays off is a testimony to the fact that this very old tradition in France is established and won’t be changing any time soon,” he said.
Only in France
However people living in the picturesque town of Castres in south west France might be among those in favour of a bit of a shake-up of traditional closing times. 
That because in Castres, all 17, (yes 17!) pharmacies must remain closed on Mondays meaning that ever since 1973 the 45,000 its residents have had to hope they don't fall sick at the beginning of the week.
And things are not going to change anytime soon, despite the frustration of some of the residents of Castres.
That's because a court in the Tarn department recently ruled against a new pharmacy in Castres which had the nerve of opening on a Monday.
The other 16 pharmacies in the town had opposed the move and sued Mediprix for unfair competition. Judges ruled in their favour and warned Mediprix that they risked a €50,000 fine every time they opened their doors on a Monday.
Needless to say the boss of the Mediprix pharmacy was “furious and outraged”.
“It is not normal that in France we prevent people from working on a Monday, which is a normal weekday when children go to school, government offices are open and everyone works,” said Christine Monino-Clot.
by Anya Walsh and Evie Burrows-Taylor
If you have a question about France or the French or just about life in France for foreigners then email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to answer it.
Next week: How much holiday do the French really get each year?

Member comments

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  1. It`s about time France got into the real world and understood that commercially they have to be flexible.
    I speak as a retired broadcast journalist who had to work when work required it.

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