Victorino Matus, Sabbath shopper
Nov 18, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 10 • By VICTORINO MATUS
The Good Book tells us “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work He had done in creation.” What biblical scholars cannot tell us, however, is precisely how God spent his Sunday. Did He go for a run? Read the paper while sipping on a venti macchiato at Starbucks?
But I am certain the Lord didn’t just sit around the house all day—unless, of course, the Lord happened to live in Europe, where commerce comes to a near standstill on Sundays. True, many cafés remain open, but retail stores? Closed. Supermarkets? Closed. Pharmacies? Closed.
I learned this during my college year in Vienna. One Sunday I needed to pick up a few groceries, only to discover the grocery stores were geschlossen—not a single location of the BILLA supermarket chain was open. I remember sarcastically asking an Austrian if hospitals and power plants were also closed. He chuckled and nodded, acknowledging the absurdity of the laws.
A few months after my arrival in Vienna, a Virgin Megastore opened on Mariahilferstrasse, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. To Richard Branson’s credit, the store was kept open on Sundays even though it meant paying a hefty fine. I suspect, however, that this penalty was offset by all the customers who flooded the store that day.
Two months ago I was in Berlin and in need of cold medicine. The problem, once again, was that it was a Sunday. A German told me the only option was going to the train station, where a few shops were allowed to operate. That’s right—in the year 2013, in a city of three-and-a-half million inhabitants, the capital of the economic powerhouse of Europe, in order to purchase a bottle of Tylenol, I have to go to a train station.
But lately, there’s been some pushback. Cosmetics giant Sephora runs a store on Paris’s Champs-Élysées that closes at midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. Predictably, a court battle ensued, pitting unions against the corporations. In September, an appeals court ruled that the chain must close its doors after 9 p.m., though many Parisians insist the late hours are the only opportunity they have to shop because of their own job schedules.
As the Wall Street Journal notes, “Advocates of more-limited hours argue that allowing employees to work late or on Sundays can hurt the country’s social fabric, preventing families from spending time together.” My German friend Claus defines that family time as “dad sitting on the couch with his bottle of beer, watching football beginning at 11:30 a.m.” He explains that quiet Sundays were meant for families to attend church services. “Of course,” he adds with a laugh, “nobody goes to church except the elderly.” (In addition to Sundays, businesses close for various holy days—and I’m not talking about Christmas. I remember Vienna shutting down for Fronleichnam—the Feast of Corpus Christi.)
If a family wants to stay home all Sunday long, in the words of Vice President Biden, God bless ’em. But shouldn’t this be a matter of choice? Growing up in New Jersey, I fondly remember the quality time spent with my family. First we attended Mass, then we drove over to the Ocean County Mall for a pizza, followed by a few hours of shopping—or, in my case, hunkering down at the arcade.
During the week, I see my own children for just an hour in the morning and a couple of hours at night. So the weekend is when I get my fill of the kids—sometimes to the point of overdose. (I often wonder how my wife deals with their insanity: “You need to turn around the black den chair,” she informs me, because the chair’s backside terrifies our 3-year-old daughter. In response, I thank her for explaining the rules of this asylum.) Nevertheless, we’ve got the option of spending our time outdoors, at the mall, or even food shopping. There’s no sense of confinement, unlike in Europe.
Speaking of which, if European nations want to boost their economies, they ought to seriously consider expanding Sunday hours for business. This would lead to greater revenue, extra pay for the workers, and the need to hire additional employees. (Last I checked, Spain’s youth unemployment rate was 56 percent.) Not only would it help the continent, but it would also aid U.S. exports.
In fact, President Obama missed a golden opportunity during his last visit to Berlin: If he’d wanted to make his mark the way Kennedy (“Ich bin ein Berliner!”) and Reagan (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”) did, the president should have ended his speech by exclaiming, “Frau Merkel, open these stores!”
The NSA in Europe. Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
It is often remarked that espionage is the second-oldest profession. Written records from Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Iran suggest that spying and civilization sprang up together. In antiquity, spies could be the hidden bureaucrats of tyranny or good governance (a ruler needed to know whether a satrap was cheating the crown and its subjects) or, less often, camouflaged itinerants writing home about the machinations of rival city-states, empires, or barbarian tribes. In modern times, espionage went Orwellian, becoming primarily a tool to buttress police states.
4:44 PM, Oct 17, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
The captain of the ms Noordam has announced that due to the choppy seas we won't be able to put in, as planned, at Santorini—but that rather than having another day at sea, we're boldly heading off to dock at Iraklion, Crete.
9:04 AM, Oct 15, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
On board the ms Noordam, at port in Venice
"Now, what news on the Rialto?" you ask those of us enjoying THE WEEKLY STANDARD Mediterranean cruise (echoing Solanio in Act 3, Scene 1, of the Merchant of Venice).
Oct 21, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 07 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Last week in these pages, Ike Brannon noted that Europe is outstripping the United States in reducing the role of government in the economy (“Europe Leads the Way?” October 14). Now it seems that our European brethren are also taking a more sensible view of the regulatory state. The European parliament surprised observers by refusing to regulate electronic cigarettes as medical devices, which would have subjected them to onerous regulations.
In reducing the role of government in the economy, the U.S. is a laggard. Oct 14, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 06 • By IKE BRANNON
For much of the last century the United States was the world’s beacon for capitalism, but these days we’re far from such a lofty perch. Since the end of the Cold War, countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain have moved to reduce the role of government in the economy by changing the tax code as well as by privatizing government activities.
"In the United States, sometimes the names I'm called are quite different."9:23 AM, Sep 4, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
In Sweden, President Obama complained about the way he's sometimes treated back home in the United States, and suggested he'd be more welcomed in Europe:
"You know, I have to say that if I were here in Europe, I'd probably be considered right in the middle, maybe center-left, maybe center-right, depending on the country. In the United States, sometimes the names I'm called are quite different," Obama said at a joint press conference.
23 percent of German men say “zero” is the ideal family size.11:44 AM, Aug 20, 2013 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Last week, the New York Times ran a piece on the dire demographic problems facing Germany. The short version: Germans aren’t having enough kids, and as a result the economy is in trouble and there are all sorts of logistical problems—vacant buildings that need to be razed; houses that will never be sold, sewer systems which may not function properly because they’re too empty.
2:33 PM, Aug 17, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Democratic senator Mary Landrieu says she's embarrassed to go to places in Europe like France and Spain because some Americans do not have health insurance. Landrieu, who is up for reelection in 2014, represents the state of Louisiana.
9:29 AM, Aug 5, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
The indispensable online magazine of Jewish life and thought, Mosaic, is featuring a spectacular contribution by our friend, the French journalist and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute, Michel Gurfinkiel.
9:04 AM, Jul 17, 2013 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
This week the EU took a stance that it heralded as pro-peace, pro-"peace process," and anti-settlement. Henceforth, new guidelines require all 28 member nations to refuse any grants, scholarships, prizes, or funding to entities in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Or any part of Jerusalem that was not part of Israel prior to the 1967 war. Or the Golan Heights.
12:00 AM, Jul 13, 2013 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
Here’s a TTIP for you. No, that’s not a typo missed by our ever-vigilant editors. It stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, what British prime minister David Cameron calls a “once-in-a-generation prize” that can create two million jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, and Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s ambassador here in Washington, reportedly describes as the “Holy Grail” for resuscitating transatlantic economies.
Jul 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 40 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook tends to avoid inductive reasoning—that is, drawing a general conclusion from specific examples—because any good polemicist can cherry-pick his anecdotes. But some recent tidings from Bratislava, in Slovakia, have tempted us to wander down Inductive Lane.
2:20 PM, Jun 17, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
As if there isn't already enough on the agenda for the G-8 Summit, now Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is threatening Europe by hinting at a terror campaign on the continent. If the Europeans arm the Syrian rebels, Assad told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "then Europe's backyard will become terrorist, and Europe will pay the price for it."