France gears up slowly for more Sunday openings

France is taking a leisurely August attitude to a new law that shakes up the country's traditional devotion to Sunday rest.

Starting Sunday, more stores have the legal right to open, a step taken by the government in hopes of boosting employment and soaking up added tourist dollars.

But it's a complicated measure, full of unresolved details that need to be worked out by employers and workers, many of whom are gone for France's sacrosanct or month-long August holiday break. And in reality, many shops that wanted to get around century-old rules and sell their wares on Sunday have already found ways to do so.

Shoppers on Paris' streets were unconvinced that the new law would make them change their habits.

"The new law is more for the tourists," said Vanessa Crenn, 27, from Paris. "On Sundays, I rest, go to the movies or the park. But it is good for the stores, to get more customers."

The law will allow all non-food stores in 494 towns and 29 zones designated special tourist areas to legally open this Sunday. It gives businesses more legal certainty, but those that weren't already open still have to negotiate new arrangements with workers who will want something in return for giving up their Sunday.

"It's psychologically difficult to work on a Sunday," said Donalda Bashi, manager of the children's clothing line at Benetton, who is looking for more than double pay. "If they want us to do it, they have to make it worth our while."

An Ifop survey in June said 59% of French were for the reform.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy won election with the slogan "work more to earn more," and opening more of France's shops on Sunday is part of his recipe for kickstarting France's economy.

France's parliament finally approved the law last month after vigorous opposition by leftists — and several members of Sarkozy's conservative UMP party— who say the measure threatens France's social model and worker rights.

The debate pits supporters of traditional French values of quality of life and family time against those who say they want to drag the country into the 21st century.

The new law seeks to bring order to loopholes that have sprung up around a 1906 law that established Sunday as a mandatory day off.

A patchwork of more or less official exceptions, included the one that allows shops in tourist zones such as the Champs-Elysees, to open if their wares or services fit a vaguely defined category of entertainment and cultural goods.

Louis Vuitton got around legal challenges against Sunday opening at its flagship Champs-Elysees store by installing a "cultural space." Other clothing or jewelery stores benefited from authorities turning a blind eye.

"I'm not very concerned with the new law," said Emilie Lenoir, assistant manager of Eden Shoes on the Champs-Elysees, which was already open on Sundays.

The law will eventually allow some non-tourist businesses such as furniture stores in the Paris, Marseilles and Lille regions to open on Sunday — but the decree permitting that won't be in place before September.

The new law says working on Sunday in these zones has to be voluntary and should be compensated by at least double time. There are no guidelines for worker compensation in tourist zones.

An official from the office of Labor Minister Xavier Darcos who declined to be named in line with government policy said it's impossible to know how many businesses will take advantage of the new system.

Paris' Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe, whom France's constitutional court awarded the right to decide on any extension to the designated tourist zones in the French capital, is not opposed to some extensions but has vowed not to turn Paris into a "big commercial center," according to his deputy Lyne Cohen-Solal.

She said the only request has come from department stores on Boulevard Haussmann. The mayor's office is waiting for details on how the law would be applied before starting consultations with unions and residents.

"We are not in any rush," she said. "Parisians like their Sundays to be calm."

Associated Press writer Rachel Kurowski contributed to this report.

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