Bank Holidays and Supermarkets

When I first arrived to Milan in 2009 I went out on a Sunday to buy some groceries, I walked a few hundred meters down the neighborhood just to find out that bars, supermarkets, pharmacies, and everything else was closed.

I wondered that since I didn’t had a TV I must have missed the news about an alert to remain at home because of some nuclear bomb going off that day. I ended up eating an artichoke sandwich out of a vending machine at the nearest metro station (this is why I hate artichoke).

Even after living abroad for a while, I still haven’t figured out if the fact of people working long hours depends on habits or labor costs. Even in India, where wages for non-skilled labor are low, there were no 24/7 supermarkets, although you could find small corner shops, some restaurants and certainly hotels with open kitchens till quite late, at least in Bangalore (where I lived for a year).

In México, for instance, if you go out partying late there will always be 24/7 convenience chain stores and any kind of street food or restaurant at 2, 4 or 6 in the morning, although at that time you would expect it open naturally for breakfast, weather weekday, weekend and even holidays.

Now that I am back in Italy after a year in India, it’s very clear to see (or at least I notice it now) that shops owned by non-Italians tend to be open longer and in “odd” days… like Sundays. A few weeks back there was a plumber in our house fixing something in the kitchen and he mentioned that since it was Saturday afternoon there wouldn’t be any open place to buy the fixtures he needed. He then paused for a second and said: “Well, perhaps I could find a Chinese shop”.

So again, I cannot seem to get weather it is a wage or working habit reason, but I think that if an Italian shop would want to make some extra money it would naturally think on opening more hours a day, or an extra day. But perhaps the owner thinks that opening later or another day wouldn’t make sense because people (locals) are not be used to shop late, or on Sundays, therefore no one would come to buy even if his shop was open.

One thing for sure is that they would still complain about the crisis and the low sales, without noticing that in today’s world you have to work more and harder to earn the same results you used to get 10 or more years ago.

So after giving a bit of explanation on the point where I want to get, I wanted to share this chart from last year’s study about working hours across  OECD countries. Remember my post about stereotypes? Well, it turns out that México, a country traditionally seen as lazy where people take siestas after lunch, drink tequila all the time and wear sombreros, is actually the country that in average works longest hours in a day, including paid and non paid activities.

So if you live in one of these countries you might be thinking “oh I work longer hours than that“. Keep in mind, this is an average, so it includes observed working time of a country’s population where while one person can work 10 hrs a day and another 6, then the average would be 8… (You can be the 10hr working guy if it makes you happy)

Anyway, the gray part is actually unpaid work that can be shopping, cooking, etc; this is why I don’t consider it relevant so let’s focus on paid activities. This is the chart:

Now, evidently the argument that comes up is that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily mean working efficiently, and that is absolutely true, since a person in country x could do the same job with equal or more quality in less time than a worker in country y. But coming to my initial thought of doing grocery shopping on Sunday’s, I guess you don’t need astronauts to operate a cashier right?

Then you see people complaining about their governments increasing the retirement age or slashing benefits, but this comes down to how much of your working years in your life you can designate to do a productive activity before the Government has to put you in pension until the day you die and stop being a liability for it.

I think this is what the whole European welfare “crisis” is about, they haven’t fully realized that the “globalization” game is more than just producing cheap goods in and underdeveloped country and selling them in another, it’s also about people.

And there are two kinds of them, the ones who want to work 35 hrs a week with full benefits, holidays, and the ones in developing countries working more hours or days for a fraction of others’ salary. That’s the real globalization.

In any case, if you think you are working too much, you could chose to go to work to a country with a bunch of holidays to relax and spend your money:

So at some point you could find yourself living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, even if you have to change your underdeveloped country’s habit of doing grocery shopping on Sundays.

But if there is something that living abroad has thaught me is that you can’t have it all. There is a trade off for everything…

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Mexican blogger living abroad and writing about experiences of traveling around México, Italy, India and Spain.


Add Your Comment
    • Lucia
    • April 10, 2012

    Todos tienen derecho a descansar. Abrir en domingo por ganarte 4 pesos más no vale la pena. Trabajar para vivir not the other way around. Me ha tocado platicar con choferes del microbus que trabajan 7 días a la semana y me parte el corazón que tienen 70 años y ni así pueden tener 5 minutos para disfrutar su vida. Apesta.

  1. Lucia gracias por tu comentario. Ojo que no estoy diciendo q sea la misma persona quien trabaje los 5, 6 o 7 dias 😉
    Lamentablemente este “derecho” a descansar no es parejo entre los paises. Lo q esta pasando en Europa es que ya estan sintiendo los efectos del capitalismo y el exprimir a las personas a condiciones laborales que se asimilan cada vez mas a las del chofer en Mexico. El problema no es de quien descanse y quien no, sino del sistema en si que apunta a que los trabajadores se conviertan en esclavos. Gracias por leer!

    • Roberto Medina
    • April 16, 2013

    Muy chida la columna. No han entendido los paises “calientes” de europa que trabajar pocas horas, ganar buen $$$ y jubilarse a los 50 años no los agüanta ningun gobierno. Ademas el hecho de estar abierto mas tiempo es un “servicio” que a la larga se debe de traducir en mas clientes satisfechos que retribuira a mejores ventas

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