Photo by ebaycoach

When I moved to southern Germany in the late 90s, I was surprised to learn that most shops were closed by 4 PM on Saturday and all day on Sunday. Literally, the only place you could get anything to eat at home on Sunday, if you did not manage your shopping during the week, was at the local gas station. To be fair, many restaurants were open on Sunday, so it was not the end of the world if you missed your weekly shopping, just a little more expensive. Oh, and major commercial trucking is also not permitted in Germany on Sunday (I love this rule–no complaints from me on this one…ever)

I adapted pretty quickly to the new routine during my first year in Germany, but whenever I had a particularly rough week and was forced to do everything early on Sat., I would start complaining loudly to whoever was willing to listen. Then, I would fondly recall the beautiful convenience of the 24 hour, always on, “consumer is king” lifestyle in the US.

Fast forward a few years…
Over time, I started to fully appreciate the shopping silence on Sunday. I began to enjoy the fact that Sunday afternoons were reserved for reflection, church, hanging out with family or friends, going to museums, etc. Yes, I would still go on the occasional “free market is king” rant, but, in general, I enjoyed the silence.

Germany has a long tradition of closing the doors on Sunday. According to Der Spiegel, In 1919, it became illegal to open up shops on Sunday and stores on workdays could only be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Saturday afternoons later became taboo. Nowadays, political wrangling about when stores can do business has become something of a tradition in Berlin. About once a year the government raises hopes among less traditional Germans that the late-night snack or roll of toilet paper may not be far away

Will the downturn change things?
As the recession drags on, there may be more pressure on Berlin to change as some economists posit that longer opening hours could help stimulate consumer spending and give the flagging economy a bit of a boost.

I actually hope Germany sticks to their no Sunday opening policy. One day without full blast consumption pressure is probably good for people judgmentally (no, I don’t have data to support this). I do hate the fact that something like this has to be legislated, but without forcing retail shop closure, competitive pressures seem to force everyone to operate around the clock. I am sure there are a couple of examples of major retail chains bucking the Sunday open “rule” in N. America, but I can’t recall any at the moment. Interestingly, according to a UK poll on 71% of people say that they would not be bothered very much or at all if all shops except local convenience stores were shut on Sundays. (Side cause note: You can donate to the Keep Sunday Special cause online)

Soak up some of that consumer debt now please…

Photo by yksin

US consumers are currently sitting on $2,540,000,000,000 in Debt. $2.54 Trillion seems like a huge sum. This would mean $8,467 for every person according to this post. Could shutting the doors on Sunday help nudge people in the US reduce some of their debt? Countries that have a no shopping on Sunday policy generally don’t have an issue with consumer debt…

Rob Walker notes more ideas on getting consumer debt down to manageable levels in his latest Consumed column. He writes: the Institute for American Values recently issued a report offering more suggestions on how to tone down consumption…like endorsing a public-education campaign; making the Thrift Savings Plan, which lets federal workers regularly sock a portion of their income into diversified investment funds, available to all working Americans; and even a revival of National Thrift Week

What do you all think? Is it time for a little forced shop closure for the US consumer? I think we have proven that we are not to be trusted with our credit cards & so, sadly, it may be time for adult supervision. I know free marketers won’t like this idea…I didn’t like it at first either. Feel free to comment!

Here is a related article about a woman named Samantha Weinberg who apparently eliminated her shopping for a year…

Here is another post on where the new frugality (since the downturn) may be leading.

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