Readers of a certain age will probably remember long, boring Sundays when everything closed down and you had to make your own entertainment – and in some parts of France that is still the case.
But your Sunday experience in France will differ quite markedly depending on where you are.
In big cities you will have no problem finding shops that are open on a Sunday.
You will, however, notice that many small and independent businesses are closed on a Sunday while others – particularly boulangeries and florists – are only open in the morning. This is to allow French families to pick up bread and a delicious pâtisserie tart for lunch en famille, as well as a gift of flowers or a plant for the hostess if they are lunching out.
Offices, including government offices and post offices, will close on a Sunday, while many public spaces such as leisure centres, museums and parks will have different opening times on Sundays.
It’s also worth noting that many cities hold public events on a Sunday which means that access to some areas may be restricted.
In Paris the central arrondissements go car free once a month on a Sunday (and the city also holds a monthly ‘free museum Sunday’ when all state-owned museums have free entry).
In smaller towns its a mixed picture – usually the supermarket will be open at least on Sunday morning, and you’re likely to find a boulangerie and maybe a florist open on a Sunday morning.
Some supermarkets that open on a Sunday offer automatic checkouts only – meaning that you have to pay by card and you cannot buy alcohol.
It’s likely that most other shops will be closed, although it varies from town to town – and places that depend on the tourist trade are much more likely to have shops open on a Sunday.
In both towns and cities pharmacies usually operate a formal or informal rota system, so that in any reasonably-sized town or – in the cities – neighbourhood at least one pharmacy is open on a Sunday.
Once you get into the countryside and small towns, expect to find most things closed on a Sunday.
It’s also not unusual for small and independent businesses to also close on a Monday – this is to give staff who worked on Saturday a proper two-day break.
Sunday opening is definitely changing in France, driven by a mixture of new laws and social attitudes.
In 2015 François Hollande’s government introduced a relaxation in the strict Sunday closing rules that allowed local authorities to authorise Sunday opening for shops and also created ‘international tourist zones’ where places that a lot of tourists could also open their shops on a Sunday.
Since then, Sunday opening has become more and more common.
This change has been a controversial one though – in 2019 the decision by the retail chain Casino to open its hypermarché stores on a Sunday morning prompted demonstrations.
While traditionally it was Christian groups who opposed Sunday opening, these days it’s just as likely to be trade unions – who are concerned about the effect on employees’ work-life balance and right to time off if Sunday opening becomes the norm.
Some supermarkets have attempted to circumvent this by opening on Sundays with automated checkouts only, in order to reduce staffing levels.
Increasingly, green groups are also opposing Sunday opening as they focus on reducing consumption in order to save the planet.
While many shoppers welcome the convenience of Sunday opening, there is still plenty of support for making Sunday a more relaxing day where shopping is off the menu.
When we ran a poll of readers of The Local in 2019, 58 percent were against increasing Sunday opening.
Living in France: Daily dilemmas. This is currently causing some controversy in France but do you believe that the tradition of shops closing on a Sunday should continue? Or are you in favour of the convenience of Sunday opening?
— The Local France (@TheLocalFrance) August 27, 2019