Sundays in France: Remember Britain circa 1950? No? Good for you.

France is a first world country. The French have a stable economy, a great transport system, a rich political and cultural history, and a great range of landscapes and climates. In essence, they’re doing well for themselves. I am clearly not going to confuse my adopted country with, say, Sudan.

And yet, out here in the provinces, come Sunday, you might think you were living in a much earlier era, when people ate at home and prayed at church, and that was the sum activity of the final day of their weekend. It’s still not Sudan, granted, but here in Orléans the streets are completely deserted. A mournful wind blows rubbish round the statue of Joan of Arc in the main square. The supermarkets, shops, and market stalls are all shut, as well as the majority of bars, cafés and restaurants. My corner shop claims to be open between 9h30 and 12h30 on a Sunday, but as I attempted to forage for food this morning it was ostentatiously closed. Maybe the pretence of the horaires was enough for them, but frankly my stomach disagreed.

It is just so depressing, living in a place where one day a week the city becomes a complete ghost town. Even in the event of a rare sighting of a fellow human being, one watches them scurry away, head down, baguette safely tucked under arm, as though they know they are doing something wrong being out on the streets on this jour de l’interieur.

They can’t all have loving families to go back to. One imagines a domestic scene where every member of the household gathers delightedly for lunch, from the tiny baby to the great grandparent no one is entirely sure is still alive. Obviously they will have purchased all the ingredients for said gastronomic event the day before. They laugh together in a Gallic fashion, joking about existentialism, and then they just go to bed, I suppose. In this scene I stand outside on the freezing street, staring forlornly at a French ritual I am not a part of, and cannot ever hope to understand.

Having been back to the UK last week, where Sunday is now treated like any other day of the week, the difference is even more painfully apparent in my mind. The effect is so extreme on towns and cities outside Paris, which is bustling regardless of the day of week, that I now yearn for a Sunday cappucino and some gratuitous capitalist indulgence in the nearby shops. Actually, even just a pint of milk for tea would be something, which I could not find in any of the few places open today. This is what my mother remembers of her own childhood, when Sunday meant boredom. Britain moved on, for the sanity of a nation.

Sarkozy agrees with me, but the rest of the French don’t. It’s a day for family, for resting, and for doing homework, according to my friend Pascale. However, if you don’t feel like talking to your family, lying around or thinking about school, you are in the wrong town, and the wrong country. Maybe I should move to Sudan.

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