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The Art of the French Sunday

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The Art of the French Sunday

When I first arrived in Montpellier for my French courses, I found it a nuisance that everything in France seems to close on a Sunday. Numerous times I found myself with no food in my fridge, and having to fashion some very questionable meals from whatever I could find in my cupboards because the supermarkets were closed. Or, going to visit a nearby town on a Sunday, only to find that the cafes are closed and the locals are nowhere to be seen. It was only when my sister came to visit that my perception of this as a massive inconvenience began to change. Walking around Montpellier, she loved the idea of everything closing on a Sunday as it quite literally forces people to slow down, to rest, and take time for themselves.

Sunday was established as a day of rest in France by a 1906 law, which banned people from working on a Sunday. And, when people who work in bakeries, supermarkets, banks, don’t work, everyone else has no choice but to relax a bit. You can’t be tempted to run errands, or pick up some shopping on a Sunday: you have to be content with simply being.

Indeed, the streets of Montpellier are often pretty empty on a Sunday as most shops are closed. This made me ask my teacher at ILA French language school, where does everyone go on a Sunday? She told me that in her experience, French people generally spend time with their families on Sunday, at home or visiting relatives. Of course, being in Montpellier for a French immersion stay, the rest of my family are back in the UK, so this French family Sunday always seemed a bit unattainable for me. But, over time, I’ve slowly learnt how to spend a Sunday in the French way – and last Sunday, I think I fully mastered the art.

How to spend a truly French Sunday: good food and good friends

My French Sunday started off very lazily. I didn’t have any French courses in the morning as it was the weekend, so I had a nice lie in before heading to the market to pick up some bread and fruit to take to my friend’s place for brunch. I once went to Nimes on a Sunday, and couldn’t find anyone in the whole city – until I walked into the street with the market in, and I found the entire town. This is a classic part of the French Sunday, and in Montpellier, there are a few different food markets to choose from, as well as the Dimanches du Peyrou, a weekly flea market which sells everything from antiques to cool second-hand clothes.

After I picked up some groceries at Les Halles Laissac, I went over for brunch, where there was already a spread of homemade pancakes, pastries, fresh bread, and cookies. Apart from the baguette and a few croissants the food wasn’t particularly French, but the vibes definitely were. We ate (a lot), drank espresso, and after we were all literally stuffed, everyone sat around for hours just relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. My friends and I said it felt a bit like it was Christmas day, that time after lunch where everyone just sits around, chatting, playing games, or simply trying to resist an afternoon nap. I think this is definitely the spirit of the French Sunday; I spent time with people I care about, eating good food and drinking good coffee, content to not really do anything in particular.

All in all, our Sunday ‘brunch’ lasted almost five hours, a truly French lazy Sunday, and the best way to end my weekend before my French courses on Monday. With a French immersion stay, it is not only your knowledge of the French language which improves, but also your knowledge of the French culture, which can be equally as important. I think it’s important then to take advantage of your weekends to explore the cultural side of learning French in France, and complement your French courses during the week. I might not have spent my Sunday with French people or with family, but when we were doing the washing up after brunch together, I finally felt like I had cracked the French family Sunday.