For members


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

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.

Members' Q&A: Why are so many shops in France closed on Mondays?
Photo: photography33/Depositphotos
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

  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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For members


Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?

France’s top-up health insurance 'mutuelles' have been getting steadily more expensive in 2020. Here’s a look at what’s changing, why and who is the worst affected.

Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?
A dentist is checking the teeth of an elderly lady in a nursing home in Paris. Photo: AFP

“The prices have never been so high in France,” said Fabien Soccio, spokesperson for the company Meilleure Assurance (Best Insurance).

His company this week revealed the results of a new study of France's private health insurance fees, mutuelles, to French media.

After comparing 55 different mutuelles health insurances, Meilleur Assurance concluded that there had been a general spike in the average cost.

What is a mutuelle?

France has generous state health care that covers a lot of medical expenses, but not all costs are reimbursed.

In France you pay upfront for your doctor's appointment, prescription or procedure and then the government reimburses the costs to you. Depending on the procedure and your situation, usually about 80-90 percent of the cost is reimbursed.

If that cost is a €25 appointment with your GP that's not such a big deal, but with more expensive treatments the costs can mount up, which is where a mutuelle comes in.

The mutuelle is a 'top-up' insurance – not obligatory, but recommended – which covers extra costs that are not covered by the state. How much a mutuelle covers will depend on the kind of insurance, where you live and the expenses in question.

If you are an employee, your employer must pay for at least half the cost of your mutuelle

Who was affected by the price increase?

The 2020 price hike touched the country as a whole, however some regions and population groups were harder hit than others, Soccio told Le Parisien.

To compare the costs for different socio-demographic groups, Meilleur Assurance created three different types of profiles; a 25-year-old employee with a “classic” mutuelle; a couple with two children, also on a “classic” mutuelle and a 60-year-old couple with “strengthened” guarantees in their mutuelle.

Seniors hardest hit

Retirees tend to go for fuller versions of mutuelles because these cover additional costs (such as dental and optical treatments). 

Seniors on extensive types of mutuelles were those suffering the steepest price increases this year, Soccio said. 

“In 2020, fifteen départements exceeded a threshold of €3,000 in annual fees for a senior couple with extra guarantees,” Soccio said.

“That’s an average increase of more than €176 in one year,” he said.

For the couple with a child, the increase was slighter ( an extra 4 percent), whereas the young employee saw health insurance bills largely unchanged.

READ ALSO Brexit: Do I need a mutuelle to get residency in France?


.. along with Parisians

The study also revealed large price differences between different regions, with inhabitants in the Paris region Ile-de-France paying the highest bills for their mutuelles.

A retired couple would pay on average €528 more if they lived in Paris compared to if they lived in a more rural, cheaper département like Mayenne.

Similarly, employees would pay 30 percent more on average in Paris than in Pays-de-la-Loire.

Parisians also saw the steepest price increases since last year, by 14.6 percent on average for the retired couple with a mutuelle covering extra costs.

On a national level, the average price increase for the same couple was 12.1 percent. 

.. but everyone was a little worse off

However the country as a whole saw a price increase last year, with even those opting for the cheapest kinds of health insurance affected by the general price hike.

In one year, from 2019 to 2020, the cheapest type of health insurance had increased by 13.7 percent, according to the study. 

Why the increase?

Prices generally increase a little every year, but this year was unusual, Soccio said.

“Today, we are in an uncertain and troubled situation,” he told Europe 1, listing several factors that had contributed to the price increase: the Covid-19 pandemic, the government's new health reform known as “100 percent Santé”, and a new health tax known as the “Covid surtax”.

When the French government presented their new budget for 2021, centred on their dazzling €100 billion relaunch plan, they promised not to increase taxes for the French. Instead, to top up their savings a little, the government introduced a new tax, the “Covid surtax”, which will be paid through the mutuelles and other health insurance companies.

This tax will provide €1 billion in total to the state in 2021, and €500 million in 2022, according to French media.

What about the future?

Soccio said he worried the trend of prices increasing would continue in the next couple of years, leading to steep prices for even those opting for the cheaper mutuelles.

“It's safe to bet that the national average costs will pass €3,000 in the next two years,” he told Le Parisien.