The LA Times describes a French shopping phenomenon that seems positively archaic: retail stores only have sales twice a year.
In the US, land of the perpetual discount, this may seem odd indeed. Even in France, there is opposition; Sarkozy, for example, is trying to broaden the rules to allow more freedom in this respect in hopes of giving the stagnant economy an extra boost.
“Broaden the rules?” you may ask. “What rules?”
It’s the law that French sales are limited to two times a year, January and June or July. And all stores must have them at the same time. This makes competition fair, according to French thinking (yes, the French are different from you and me).
But France is not alone. Many European countries—Belgium, Italy, Spain, and Greece—have the same sort of bans. What’s more, even during a sale they usually can’t sell below cost, or advertise in advance.
France and many other countries in Europe aren’t called nanny states for nothing. There’s an attitude that, without government control over even the smallest elements of life, human nature would be so red in tooth and claw that we’d tear each other apart, even in Bon Marche.
Actually, the regulations don’t prevent a certain feeding frenzy that prevails during sale time; the article describes those couple of weeks as “mayhem” on the boulevards of France. But nevertheless the prevailing French attitude is that:
…competition isn’t considered possible without regulation to set a time and place for it.
Actually, there is some method to their madness. Somewhat like legislation to protect endangered species that otherwise would become extinct:
…these laws are aimed at preventing big stores from driving smaller ones out of business.
There’s a darker side, as well:
Some [of the laws] are said to have originated in the mid-1930s in Germany, when the Nazi Party wanted to protect the public from what it regarded as overly competitive “Jewish” practices by some shopkeepers.
Germany, however, freed itself from the last of such rules in 2004, and polls in France indicate that following suit would be a popular move.
Not that there isn’t some resistance to the change, even among those who love sales. As one avid French shopper says:
I’m always embarrassed to be seen on the Metro with so many bags [during sale time], so I stuff everything in one bag together…I don’t want people to think I’m a materialist.
Non, non, non, we wouldn’t want that, would we? How gauche, how bourgeois, how juif.