Baker Stéphane Cazenave is said to produce France's best baguettes. However, according to French law, he can only produce those baguettes six days a week.
Cazenave had ignored that rule because demand for his baguettes was so high that he was able to employ 22 people seven days a week. Instead of being applauded, Cazenave now faces a lawsuit. "People see me like a thug just because I asked to work," he told France Television. "Working shouldn't be a crime in France."
It might seem strange to Americans, but French businesses are often closed on Sundays in most parts of the country and are only allowed to open five times a year that day. Despite the French tradition of separating religion and state, labor unions and Catholic lobbies have so far succeeded in defending Sunday as a sacred 'day of rest' for the entire country.
This, however, could change. To many French, the current debate about allowing more businesses to open on Sundays is of a fundamental nature: Should the country become more commercial and capitalistic?
French President François Hollande believes so. He shocked many when he recently announced he would pursue a law known under the name of France's economy minister Emmanuel Macron. The initiative aims to liberalize the country's bureaucratic economy. For Hollande, a lot is at stake: Having so far been unable to decrease unemployment and boost growth, his popularity has sunk dramatically.
The law -- pursued by a leftist Socialist Party government -- is supposed to end a variety of monopolies and allow more competition, but its most contentious proposal is to allow stores and businesses to open more often. According to the draft, they could soon operate on 12 instead of five Sundays a year. Cities could decide on their own whether they would implement the rule, and there are exceptions in areas, such as in Paris.
One of the 2012 election promises of Hollande had been to keep Sunday a day of rest. Hence, breaking with this promise has been interpreted by some in France as a sign of governmental despair with an uncertain economic impact.
Critics are outraged. "It is a moment of truth speaking to the one question that truly matters: What kind of society do we want to live in?" former French employment minister Martine Aubry asked in an op-ed in Le Monde in December.
"Does the political left have nothing else to offer as a societal model than a Sunday stroll to the mall and the accumulation of consumer goods? Sunday should be a time set aside for oneself and for others," Aubry argued.
Without actually naming it, Aubry implied what she did not want France to become: a country with a 7-days a week consumption culture as it is common in the United States. France is not the only country in which shopping is limited on Sundays: Germany, for instance, has upheld similar regulations.
When France's economy surprisingly started to grow slightly at the end of 2014, it was mainly due to domestic consumption. Allowing consumers to spend money seven days a week instead of only six could boost the country's outlook, some said.
Others, however, are more skeptical. "The bill is a 'catch-all' text that does not address France’s serious structural issues," Emmanuel Martin, Director of the Paris-based Institute for Economic Studies-Europe, told The Washington Post. "France’s issues are structural: a bloated government administration both at the central and local level which generates inefficient regulations, inefficient spending and of course then, higher growth-killing taxation."
Even though Martin is not convinced of the law, he acknowledged it does sometimes feel like something from another era. "For sure, it feels weird to see shops closed in a major shopping street of Paris -- one the most beautiful cities of the world," Martin said.