Bridging the cultural divide: the art of the French Sunday
A French Sunday doesn’t feel like Sunday in America. I never know whether I should go downstairs before I’m called. At home, everyone congregates in the open-plan kitchen, watching television together as my mother prepares the next meal. Here, the living room remains empty.
But from my room, I can hear Sidonie, the third of my French host family’s four children, clambering down the stairs. It’s almost time for Sunday lunch; I creep downstairs to watch the ceremony.
I peek into the living room and see Sidonie distributing little peanut-flavored snacks – they’re called apéro I’ve come to understand. My host father brings out a bottle of pale green liquid, which he dilutes with water. He splashes in a bit of rum. We sit around the table; everyone has their place. It’s now noon, but I know we’ll be at the table for two hours. This is Sunday lunch in France.
On Sundays during those three months in the north of France, I often saw nobody until we all sat down to eat. Sometimes the younger children would pop their heads into my room and jump on my bed. Other times, I would catch a glimpse of someone eating breakfast at the kitchen table. But mostly, I felt like a ghost, haunting the house I was a guest in.
When I came back to France as a study abroad student, first in Cannes, then in Paris, I realized why Sundays were so slow. Everything was closed; there was nothing to do. But I wasn’t alone. Other Americans were infuriated by the fact that nothing was open on Sundays. While it didn’t make me angry, I was happy to be with people who wanted to ‘do’ things. We Americans banded together on those trips. We created our own activities: day trips to other towns, afternoons with a pile of DVDs, and endless snacks.
After beginning to date my French boyfriend, we went out to the countryside for the obligatory meet-the-parents weekend. I was armed with a bottle of Saint-Joseph, recommended by my wine bar-owning boss, seeing as ‘the parents’ lived in the Loire and probably knew much more about wine than I ever would.
On Saturday during that weekend, I met my boyfriend’s friends at a party. We spent the evening drinking and trying to get to know one another. We didn’t get back to his house until very late, and I was embarrassed when, around noon on Sunday, we finally surfaced. I didn’t know what to expect from the parents.
My boyfriend’s younger sister was quietly setting the table. His father was mixing a cocktail for apéro. His mother was stirring something on the stove. No one actually seemed to care that we had slept until midday.
Now we often spend Sundays at that little house in the Loire Valley. Sometimes relatives drop by for a drink before lunch. Sometimes we pack into cars and visit them instead. Sometimes we do nothing but eat a hearty lunch and watch the afternoon news together. I think I may have finally understood the key to a French Sunday.
No one makes plans, which means everyone has got time on their hands. Time to visit, time to eat. Time to sleep if you want to. Sunday in France is a time for everyone to just ‘be’, which often means ‘being’ together.
I think that I’m starting to like it.Image credits:
1. Setting the table, by kyz on Flickr
2. Brunch du dimanche, by leafar on Flickr
3. Glass of wine, by Hades2K on Flickr
3. Replete, by jenny downing on Flickr
This popular post was refreshed and republished in 2021
1. French Sunday
2. French Sunday – What’s shut and what’s open
3. French Sunday: The dilemma of should French shops stay closed on Sunday
4. French Sunday – The shops are open or not?
5. French Sunday: Trading laws
6. Sunday in France: The trauma of the long Sunday lunch
My French boyfriend spends Sunday having a grasse matinée, followed by routine cleaning, ironing his shirts and pants for the week, and shining his shoes. I thought this was *insane* until I talked to a French friend who told me “that’s the way it is, everything’s closed on Sundays, so French people do nothing”.
Our dinners with his family for some reason tend to fall on Saturdays, but the last one, which I was lucky enough to bring an American friend to, was on a Sunday and lasted 6 hours! I was worried about her “losing” a day of her vacation for it, but she LOVED the experience.
Ça doit faire du bien, se comporter comme mon compatriote le koala, perché en haut dans un eucalyptus, des heures d’affilée à ne rien faire, sauf être vivant. À la différence de nos marsupiaux fainéants, les Français ont réussi à sauvegarder un véritable délice – le déjeuner du dimanche. Bravo!! On éviterait un tas de maux, on améliorerait sa santé si on pouvait se planquer chez soi ou chez un bien-aimé ou un pote le dimanche.
D’ailleurs, je ne plains même pas la personne qui s’occupe de la préparation du repas car, perso, ça me ferait énormément de plaisir de pouvoir le faire, pourvu que la ‘tâche’ s’organise à tour de rôle: pourquoi est-ce que maman devrait se farcir le travail chaque semaine? (et dans l’appart d’un couple gay? On s’arrange comment? Un travail partagé, j’imagine.)
Mais, ce que j’ignore, est-ce plutôt ce que font les habitants des provinces, ceux des zones rurales ou bien est-ce pareil dans les grandes villes? Est-ce vrai que tout est fermé le dimanche? On ne peut pas, par exemple, sortir voir une pièce de théâtre expérimentale ou participer à un atelier de quoi qu’il soit? C’est-à-dire, est-ce que les citadins, eux aussi, considèrent le déjeumer du dimanche comme ‘sacré’ pour ainsi dire, ou ‘intouchable’?