You think the school days are weird, check out the shopping hours

January 4th, 2011

We got into a bit of a grocery bind over New Year’s weekend; I hadn’t planned well for the long weekend and we were running low on a lot of things. Dashing out to pick up a few things on a holiday isn’t so easy in Switzerland: the opening hours of stores are strictly regulated. Typically stores are open from 8 am to 6:30 pm Monday through Thursday (to 7 pm on Fridays) and from 8 am to 5 pm on Saturday. In small towns many shops will close over the lunch hour – in my village the bakery and the grocery store are closed from noon until 2 pm – though in the cities this is less common. In Bern the groceries and bakeries remain open over lunch as do the department stores and most of the larger shops, but there are still small specialty stores – maybe an art gallery, a high-end jewelry store, an antique shop – that close for an hour and a half or two hours over lunch. Most businesses – and my most I mean pretty much everything – are closed on Sundays. The exception to the Sunday shopping restrictions are stores in the train stations, on the Autobahn, or attached to gas stations.

(This is an improvement over the shopping hours when I first arrived in Switzerland ten years ago. Then is was 8 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday and 8 am to 4 pm on Saturdays.)

In Switzerland, holidays are referred to as Sundays. This is important, because the Sunday shopping laws go into effect on holidays. And because by making the holiday a Sunday, it transforms the day before a holiday into a Saturday with Saturday shopping hours. For example: New Year’s Day fell on a Saturday. But because it was a holiday, it became a Sunday: all the stores were closed. Further, the day before New Year’s – Friday, when one typically can shop until 7 pm – became, legally, a Saturday, when the shops close at 5 pm. So over the New Year’s weekend, the shops closed at 5 pm Friday and did not reopen until 8 am Monday. (Which explains why R had to run to the grocery store in the train station in the city over the weekend.)

Banks, for reasons I have yet to discover, are closed all weekend. And often over lunch, even in the city. When, exactly, are people supposed to do their banking?

Museums are typically open on Sundays but then make up for it by closing Mondays.

When I used the library in the city it was open Saturday but closed Monday.

I’m a stay-at-home mom so I can work around all this, but you can imagine the burdens this places on a family where both adults work full time outside the home. And I can tell you: the last place on earth you want to be is in a Swiss grocery store in the hour before it closes for a long holiday weekend.