Oct 31st, 2015, 06:05 PM

US vs France: Work Ethic and Sunday Shopping

By Chrystal Vavoulidis
Mall of America (Photo: Jpellgen, Flickr)
American expat? Well, you have probably noticed the cultural differences in those little things from your daily life.

Are you a French expat who has moved to the United States or an American who has taken up residence on the old continent? Well, you have probably noticed many cultural differences in little things from daily life. They are often of little importance, but sometimes crucial. They change the way you live in a foreign country and understand its people.

France and the US don’t share the same currency or language, but cultural differences go way beyond this. For example, how we shop. In that area, the French and Americans play in two different teams and have two different ideologies. Let’s look at Sunday shopping habits in each country.

The French seem to balance better than Americans the famous work/family balance. For American expats in France, one of the many appealing things is the French notion of "joie de vivre" -- joy of living. It can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do. And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything that involves one's whole being. In America, work is central in one's life. Long working hours and little vacation time is the norm. I am not saying Americans don't value their families, it’s just that they value material wealth as top priorities. Which is why Sunday is just another shopping day in the United States -- a day when one can shop for groceries, clothes and do other things they could not schedule during a weekday. It is also a form of entertainment.

(Photo: Vincent F, Flickr)

In France, thanks to strict labor laws, Sunday is a day of rest. As noted in a Slate article: “France is no paradise for the poor. But it does have a fundamentally different perspective on what workers deserve.” According to  New Yorker, whereas the US is a 24/7 capitalism culture where the market and individual freedom are hallowed values, the French approach to labor is the opposite opposite. France has been resistant to change when it comes to having more shops and businesses open on Sundays. It’s rooted in the country's history. “For years, there was nothing particularly leisurely about the French compared to others: in the nineteen-fifties, the average Frenchman worked nearly twenty-two hundred hours a year—three hundred more than his American counterpart, who worked about nineteen hundred hours. The gradual reduction of working time was considered one of the great achievements of the era following the Second World War. It declined virtually everywhere, including in the U.S. By 1980, Germany, France, and the United States converged at about seventeen hundred hours.”

However, with the economy still recovering from the recession will France reconsider?

According to Reuters, many businesses in France don't mind the extra day of work. They see the benefits of it. “We work Monday to Friday, so we can’t do our shopping during the week,” says an interviewee on Bloomberg Business. “If the workers and the employers and the clients are all OK with it, what’s the harm?” 

Are beliefs and values shifting? It would seem so.