French shops and business opening hours

The need for planning and adopting a more leisurely approach to life

by Mike Welham
Shops in France 3
Open all hours? Not in France!

The title of a UK sitcom depicting a corner shop which was open from dawn to dusk and could certainly never be confused with French shopping hours. In the Limousine many shops do not open until 10am in the morning and have a two-hour break at lunch time then remain open until about 7pm. Most of the same shops are closed all day Monday and I have yet to find any shop open on a Sunday apart from the occasional Carrefour Express. All of this means that those buying a property in France will have to adjust from a 24/7 society to one of a much more leisurely approach. The key is in planning which is not always easy. I recall on many an occasion when doing DIY that I would run out of a product just when it was too late to get to the shop and so would have to wait two hours until it opened again.

When you are in a shop, say a DIY store and it reaches quarter to twelve the staff begin to get on edge. As the big hand creeps up towards the hour the staff gear up and start telling people the store is about to close. Those who continue looking for a product are told – leave the store, it’s closing. Then in those final moments it almost comes to physical action as the final customer is ejected. The doors are locked, the lights go out and then from the side door staff run to their cars to make good their lunchtime getaway. Small shops are much less demanding but once the hour is reached your custom is no longer welcome.

The big food supermarkets have a shift system and stay open through the two-hour break. Although it's a secret not to be shared, the two-hour lunch break is the best time to do your shopping as the locals will be at home eating. With so may stores closing for the two hour period there will be a surplus of shoppers with little to do so eating places fill up with both workers who are on their break and those waiting for the shops to reopen. To be fair the system is slowly changing with regards to the lunch-time opening but in towns and villages little has changed. Sundays remain a day of rest apart from places such as tourist shops.

When wanting to discuss some additions to a new kitchen it meant a journey to the store. Just to be sure the website was checked for opening hours and yes, it was open on a Saturday. The 40 minute one way drive was undertaken to arrive at the store and find the doors locked and place in darkness. It was not lunch-time and there were no signs to say why the store was closed. Telephoning on Tuesday (they were closed on Monday) the explanation was that all of the staff had done their 35 hours of work and there was nobody with any time left to open the store on Saturday. No warning on the web site and no sign on the door. This is not an uncommon situation in France and its what you will adapt to.

Owners running small shops also face problems regarding opening. Working for yourself does not bind you to working hours but the fact is that those with small shops rely on the owner to open and run the shop. If the owner is ill then the shop remains closed unless the person who stands in is also registered as a business. If somebody is registered as a small business it generally means that they are gainfully employed doing their own work. You cannot ask a friend to fill in until you are better.

So you travel to a small shop and its closed there might be a note in the window with an explanation otherwise it's a holiday or illness. It is against the law to allow a temporary person stand in unless you register them as an employee or they are registered in their own right as a business. A fine would be forthcoming to the owner and the person who stood in. That’s the reality so you get used to it. However, websites have helped in more recent years.