Sunday, September 20, 2009

Only 40 years behind

A supermarket near to where I live underwent a transformation over the summer holidays. It used to be a fairly conventional supermarket; now it has been converted into a more upscale, trendy supermarket called Carrefour City.

The incredible, unbelievable, miraculous breakthrough represented by this supermarket is that … it's open until 11:45 PM, Monday through Saturday. Big deal, you say? Perhaps in the United States this wouldn't be remarkable, but in France, supermarkets that don't keep banking hours are quite a new development. If this trend continues, French consumer society will be caught up with American consumer society before the end of the next millennium, instead of being mired in 1971. The mind boggles!

Of course, the French influence is still apparent. The supermarket is closed on Sundays, precisely the day of the week when most people are likely to have free time to go shopping for groceries. And it's open until 11:45 PM, instead of midnight, because allowing employees to leave by midnight is more important than providing good customer service.

The competition does a bit better: Monoprix's Monop' Daily supermarkets stay open until midnight. Carrefour City has even adopted the color scheme of Monop' Daily. So much for taking risks with originality. (Carrefour, by the way, was fined again by the government for not following rules on expiration and refrigeration of foodstuffs a few days ago.)

There are some other chains that are staying open “late,” meaning until 10 or 11 PM. I suppose progress is being made, slowly but surely.

This particular Carrefour City was closed on the day I photographed it; signs on the windows said the closure was due to a fire (I couldn't see any sign of a fire, but perhaps it was in a back room somewhere). The layout of the store looks a lot more sleek and modern than its predecessor, in any case.

There's already a Daily near me where I tend to shop, and it's open until midnight, but I might make a stop at this new store sometime just to see what the competition is doing. There are also many smaller supermarkets in most neighborhoods that stay open even on Sundays and late at night, usually because they are family-operated and can thus work around labor-law restrictions and avoid the 16th-century attitudes of labor unions. In French these tiny markets are sometimes called “neighborhood Arabs,” because so many of them are run by Arab immigrant families (the term is not meant pejoratively—it mainly reflects the often stronger work ethic manifested by immigrant families starting small businesses, as compared to laziness of the native bourgeoisie).

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