Sunday morning in Maastricht, a nice sunrise after a rainy night. The temperature have turned decidedly warmer; storms are predicted along the coast;. It’s remind me of Seattle’s “Pineapple Express”, when warm rains and wind blow in from Hawaii. Even better, I’m finding that my Dutch can now handle sentences at this level: Volgens Weeronline.nl en Buienradar.nl waaide het maandag enkele uren bijzonder hard langst de kust en was aan het eind van de middag de eerste herfststorm van 2012 officieel een feit. Progress.
But back to Sunday.
The weather alone is a good excuse to sit in with a herfstbier and some reading, maybe a piece of drawing paper and a few charcoals. But falling on a Sunday is even better: most shops and grocers are firmly closed from Saturday afternoon until Monday midday. This is governed by the 1996 Winkeltijdenwet, which set commercial hours by the following rules
- Het is verboden op zon- enfeestdagen geopend te zijn en om op werkdagen voor 06.00 uur en na 22.00 uur geopend te zijn. Requires closure before 6 am, after 10pm, and on Sundays.
- Gemeenten mogen vrijstelling verlenen voor maximaal 12 zon-/feestdagen per jaar. 12 Sundays and public holidays exempted each year.
- Vrijstelling is mogelijk voor avondwinkels. “Evening stores” may be exempted.
- Aanvullende vrijstelling is mogelijk in gemeenten of delen van gemeenten ten behoeve van toerisme, en in de nabijheid van grensovergangen langs daarop aansluitende doorgaande wegen ten behoeve van grensoverschrijdend verkeer. Tourist and border exemptions are allowed.
The major exemption is koopzondag, the first Sunday of every month.
At first, living in Arnhem, this regular and total closure took some getting used to.
In the VS, whenever we need something we hop into the car and go get it, day or night, assured that stores will be open. As a result, I suffered first some hungry days, not having stocked dinner for the weekend, then some twitchy days, wondering what to do if the city was closed.
Fortunately, I lived a few doors off Sonsbeek Park, a lovely green sward with lakes and woods and paths where people went walking on sunny weekend days. And I got used to taking the day off from work and errands, just taking the day lightly.
Thus was Balance reborn.
As you can imagine, this tradition has come under some commercial pressure. But Prof Robert Frank points out that opening stores for more hours doesn’t actually increase sales, it just spreads them across a longer period of time and forces shopkeepers to spend more time working to stay even. Tyler Brule, the hyperkinetic Fast Lane columnist for the FT, recently published an essay on the same topic, but from a Swiss perspective:
This ongoing curb on consumerism is not only an inconvenience, it’s wholly outdated. Or is it? As the church bells started to ring from the old town, I considered the joys of a day of rest for (almost) all.
In the end, he almost brings himself to embrace the idea…if only for it’s effects on people.
In contrast, I’m now firmly in the camp of believing that closed-door Sunday is a marvelous social (and why can’t Conservatives and Republicans champion traditional causes like this one?). I go biking to Eijsden through the countryside, have coffee along the river, meet friends, read a book, follow a thought. For one day, it’s planned and dedicated time to intellectually relax and reconnect.
Or, as people are doing out front this zondag, to salsa.
Despite the rain.