Get­ting used to the shops in France be­ing shut on pub­lic hol­i­days takes time, says who now rel­ishes fam­ily time over last-minute shop­ping

Gil­lian Har­vey

Living France - - Property Directory -

h what lovely flow­ers,” I say point­edly to Ray as we stand in the su­per­mar­ket queue. Lily of the val­ley are abun­dant in France at this time of year, with ev­ery­one from mar­ket sell­ers to in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers shov­ing sprigs of this del­i­cate, white blos­som at shop­pers as they pass.

As usual, Ray doesn’t take the hint, and I re­main flow­er­less, de­spite the fact that May Day – on which tra­di­tion­ally, hus­bands, moth­ers-in-law, friends and lovers in France buy their near­est and dear­est a bunch – is just around the cor­ner.

Seven years into our French ad­ven­ture, it’s still hard to ad­just to the tra­di­tions of dif­fer­ent pub­lic hol­i­days en France. In the UK, such hol­i­days are syn­ony­mous with (a) Mon­days and (b) large-scale sofa sales. Here, not only are the ma­jor­ity of pub­lic hol­i­days on fixed dates rather than days, but you’ll be lucky to buy much more than a baguette ( boulan­geries are con­sid­ered an es­sen­tial ser­vice) on the day it­self.

In France, heaven for­bid you run out of es­sen­tials such as nap­pies on the eve of a pub­lic hol­i­day or – come to think of it – a Sun­day af­ter­noon. This may seem like a petty con­cern but when, like us, you’ve had four in nap­pies at one time, the thought of run­ning out of such an es­sen­tial item is enough to make you shud­der.

When we first ar­rived in France, the dif­fer­ent re­tail open­ing hours took a while to get used to. Ac­cus­tomed to grab­bing a treat from the lo­cal garage when­ever a crav­ing struck, and hav­ing de­vel­oped the kind of lais­sez-faire at­ti­tude to the shop­ping list that only comes with an ex­cess of con­ve­nience, we found our­selves some­times forced to forego our Sun­day night nib­bles, or (hor­ror!), re­al­is­ing we’d run out of builder’s tea.

From about mid­day on Sun­days when even our lo­cal su­per­mar­ket closes its doors, our town be­comes as quiet and empty as, well, a Bri­tish vil­lage circa 1990. Worse, many stores ne­glect to open their doors on a Mon­day morn­ing, mean­ing shop­ping ad­dicts can be left with­out a re­tail fix for over 24 hours.

How­ever, what seemed an in­con­ve­nience on ar­rival, now seems (nap­pies per­mit­ting) a bless­ing in dis­guise. Our Sun­day af­ter­noons and pub­lic hol­i­days are spent with fam­ily, re­lax­ing; walk­ing or run­ning in the park or pre­par­ing for the week ahead. I plan our su­per­mar­ket shop more care­fully, mean­ing I save money on meals by know­ing ex­actly what I need.

So un­less a choco­late crav­ing strikes, dur­ing times of re­tail shortage I tend to re­flect on how re­liant I used to be on the cul­ture of con­ve­nience in the UK, and how nice it is to keep calm and stop car­ry­ing on.

And per­haps I’m get­ting plus âgée but I like the idea of nest­ing down with my near­est and dear­est rather than sign­ing a 0% credit deal or nip­ping to Tesco for for­got­ten es­sen­tials.

More­over, rather than cel­e­brate their May Day by leap­ing around a rib­boned pole with bells at­tached to their an­kles, the French place prece­dence on ‘Labour Day’ or the Fête du Tra­vail – a day that cel­e­brates work­ers’ rights. (As any­one who has been held up on the fer­ries or the roads dur­ing a strike will tes­tify, these are ex­tremely im­por­tant this side of the Chan­nel).

Which, as a hard­work­ing mum of five, I fully sup­port. In fact, per­haps I should adopt a more con­ti­nen­tal at­ti­tude when it comes to my own rights.

No flow­ers? Then this mum’s on strike. Gil­lian Har­vey is a free­lance writer who has lived in Li­mousin for seven years with hus­band Ray and their five young chil­dren

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