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Monday, October 21, 2013

An Austrian in San Francisco: The Freedom of Shopping at Night

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2013 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge A peek inside an Austrian grocery store - CLEMENS FABRY
  • Clemens Fabry
  • A peek inside an Austrian grocery store

Editor's Note: In the spirit of international goodwill, we are serving as the base of operations for an Austrian Journalism Fellow through the end of October. Jeannine Hierländer is here reporting on Austrians and, naturally, tech, but will also, again in the interests of international goodwill, identify and analyze cultural differences between our two great nations -- Austria and California -- as they arise.

You can buy a lot of stuff in Vienna, which is slowly, but surely, becoming a real cosmopolitan city; but where San Francisco and Austria truly differ is not the variety of shops, but their hours.

While most shops in San Francisco are open 7 days a week for upwards of 12 hours, store hours in Vienna are quite different. In Austria, most shops close at 7:30, and forget about shopping on Sundays.

Since stores lockup at 7:30 on weekdays, it means endless lines, having to shop before dinner (hello, hunger-filled purchases), or sometimes it leads to canceling your shopping plans altogether because you had to work late. These limited hours also mean a lot of crowds are pushed into the same short shopping span on Saturday. (Goodbye, weekend.)

click to enlarge This is all the time you get - CLEMENS FABRY
  • Clemens Fabry
  • This is all the time you get

On Saturday, stores close at 6 p.m., and don't re-open until Monday at 7:30 a.m. Why? Because in Austria, Sunday is supposed to be a day for family, according to the church and to the chamber of commerce (the chamber is the legal representative of Austria's craftsmen). To these institutions it doesn't matter if employees receive twice their pay for working Sundays or that tourists would love to buy things instead of window shop until Monday.

However, there's another element behind the early shop hours and Sunday closures: the fear that Austrians might speed up their lives -- or make them buy things they don't need -- just because they can. This fear is why a large part of the Austrian public supports a strict hours policy. Many people are afraid that consumerism might capture society. I also thought that way -- until I came here.

Extended supermarket hours means a level of freedom that Austrians will never experience -- they will never be able to finish work on a Friday night, have dinner, and then do their shopping. It may seem like a small thing to Americans, but imagine coming out of work and everything is closed. Everything.

Not to say there isn't something nice about keeping one day a week for the home and family, but it is even nicer if the choice is left to the individual.

While neither country is likely to change its ways, I'll definitely be doing my shopping after work and on Sundays while I'm here.

click to enlarge CLEMENS FABRY
  • Clemens Fabry

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Jeannine Hierlander

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