Sunday Closing Hours Are Just Stupid

This is the first country we have been posted to in which stores really are closed–I mean, locked down–on Sundays. By government edict. Only restaurants, museums, and a few tourist shops are open. I’ve traveled a lot in Germany, which is well-known for shutting down on Sundays, but Austria is even stricter. No train-station malls here.

Some people think this is a good thing, because it forces people to relax one day a week. I have to disagree. I think it has the opposite effect.

Fortunately, I work part-time from home, and so we don’t have to squeeze absolutely all our shopping into one day per week. But many people do, with predictable results. Stores are CRAZY on Saturdays here. As is traffic.

I don’t like retail shopping, especially in malls. But you know what I like even less? Shopping with twice as many people! Who are all in a hurry!

Shopping is not exactly a relaxing experience here at the best of times. Cashiers are polite, but ruthlessly efficient. You had just better have your act together by the time you get to the register, and by the way, bone up on your bagging skills. If you are the least bit slow about getting your stuff out of the way, the cashier will literally start piling the next person’s stuff up on top of yours. It’s not intentionally rude: they just have a system, and they expect you to get with the program. Period.

On Sundays, if you run out of milk, or want to bake a cake and need some eggs, forget about it. This was particularly irksome during the dog days of summer because there was hardly anywhere to buy drinks when we were out and about. You have to buy drinks because there are no water fountains. Very few Coke machines, either, and certainly not outside, where you can get to them when the store is closed. OK, you could go to a café and order a mineral water, but that’s assuming there is a café nearby–and you know where it is. Or you could carry a water bottle (and I often do) but exactly how much water should you have to carry around with you? And anyway, it’s just silly. Water is one of the necessities of life. You should be able to buy it on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Why Sundays? Well, it’s a Christian–in this case Catholic–thing. Austria does not have a state religion–well, not officially, anyway, even though most state holidays just happen to be exactly the same as Catholic feast days etc. So, if you are Jewish or Muslim, and your holy day is Saturday instead of Sunday, then you are SOL. (Somehow, I doubt this bothers the majority very much.)

Another argument in favor of Sunday closing is that people should be doing healthy or cultural things instead of wandering mindlessly around malls. After a few years in the consumption-crazed DC suburbs, I can kind of see that. But I don’t see how it’s the government’s business.  If I want to go hiking, go to a museum, or even go to church, then I’ll do so. I don’t need the government to shut down all commerce to get me to doing something good for my body or my mind.

They say that when you go overseas, you find out how truly American you really are. Clearly, this is one of those instances. Not my country, and not my business to tell Austrians how to do things. But when I make my top ten list of things I’m not going to miss about Austria, Sunday closing hours will be on the list.*

And on the top ten list of things I’m going to appreciate about the U.S.? That we still have separation of church and state-mostly. With a couple of exceptions, our official holidays are secular. If you want to close your store on Sundays (or the Feast of the Assumption, or whatever) you can, but no one is going to make you do it based on just one religion’s calendar. You can even keep your store open on Christmas if you really want to. Or close it on Eid, or Rosh Hashanah. It’s entirely up to you, your conscience, and the market. And thank God for that!

*And yes, I know, this is a very minor problem compared to most Foreign Service posts. At least there are stores here. Clean ones. With lots of stuff in them. Fair enough! But I happen to be posted here right now, not in East Bejeezustan. So, there you go.

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8 comments

  1. You know, I think it may actually be a Jewish thing. Observant Jews are not supposed to carry anything (like money or a purse) on Sabbath. They can’t drive cars or even turn on a light from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. (Can’t light a fire, which these are equated to.) If you bathroom has no window, it is best to turn the light on before sunset, I read a humorous piece in New Yorker a few years back where this observant Jew in an observant neighborhood just had to watch the Stanley Cup finals on a Saturday, so he turned on the TV Friday afternoon, volume low so no one could hear it, and shut all the curtains so no one would see it. He still felt guilt. No cooking (obviously), and I would say no opening the fridge door, unless you have the foresight to unscrew the light bulbs first.

    Germany was maddening. Austria shopping sounds worse.

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  2. everything herein Saudi closes several times each and every day for prayer. shopping is a nightmare plus you get to add in the joys of not being able to drive myself and of wearing an abbaya as well. Needless to say, my husband spends more time at the grocery store than I do…

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  3. I had to get used to the hours when living in the UK. I would leave the house and walk to the store… and it would be closed. It was confusing and even though it sounds kinda sad now, but it took me awhile to adjust and think about what day/time it was before setting out to the store! Fortunately, I worked a lot of night shift when I lived there and odd days… it meant I could go shopping at 9am on a Tuesday and have the store to myself… I LOVED that!

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  4. Austrian store working hours need to be adjusted for the 21st century. Most people work weekdays during the period between 7/9am until 5/7pm. It really blows my mind that literally all stores in this country are open only during those hours. Unless you consistently take long lunch hours or arrive late to work, during the week you will not be able to complete essential task such as buying prescription medication, got to a bank, etc. Then all you are left with are the maddening Saturdays when practically then entire population is trying frantically to complete their weekly shopping. There to many arguments pro and con this setup and there is no right answer. But I fear that in the long run this archaic system will hurt the smaller business the most as more and more people will turn to alternatives – online shopping being the most convenient one.

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  5. I do know this article has been posted quite a time ago, but is still online and can be read by anyone, so I can’t resist to comment about one little detail:
    You are telling (more than once) about missing drinking fountains. Don’t you know, that ALL tap water in Vienna is perfect drinking water coming directly from mountain wells in Styria or other compareable regions? This water has a much higher quality than any water you can buy in shops so there is no need to buy water on any day of the week.
    BTW, on it’s way from the mountains to Vienna the water is used to produce electricity, so even this is used to protect our environment. 😉

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    • With respect, you are missing the point. It does not matter how high quality the tap water is, if you can’t find anywhere to drink it on a hot day.

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