Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sephora and secularism

Here's some highly relevant French-Jewish news, in a tangential way: Sephora wants to keep its French stores open on Sundays, which according to Jezebel, a leading resource on the French legal system, violates French labor laws. And the face-value interpretation is of course, does anyone really need Dior tinted moisturizer on a Sunday, like need it? Shouldn't we care more about labor than some white lady's sense of entitlement to 24-7 access to the lip stain of her choice? Can't we all just lead slower, simpler lives? Why not just shop on Saturday and take a walk on Sunday, like Sartre describes in La nausée?

While it's not false that consumers want to buy silly things, and are sometimes petulant when the shop's closed, there's a whole lot more going on here.

Which brings up something I... not necessarily should know but will now have to look into: Why does the Marais, one of Paris's traditionally Jewish neighborhoods, stay open on Sundays? And no, not Judaica shops - all the same boutique-chain retailers as have closed branches everywhere else in the city/country. And I don't believe they're closed on Saturdays (or any other day) to compensate. Evidently because it's a tourist area, but the Jewish angle seems not irrelevant.

More broadly, France has a whole lot of non-Christians, about 600,000 Jews last I heard (or 599,999 since I moved far away from Le Boulanger des Invalides, sniff sniff) and far more Muslims. While secular sorts of Christian origin may maintain the cultural practice of a Sunday sabbath without even thinking about it, and may not see it as religious, keeping one going is a form of discrimination against non-Christians, who may well have their own secular or religious sabbaths, and who may well just generally not enjoy the weekly reminder of the Christian-ness of their allegedly oh-so-secular country. (I'm not speaking for this population, imagining what might offend - Albert Memmi had a whole riff on this topic.) If you're an observant Jew and you work an office job, when can you buy anything? Shops aren't open late, and Saturday's not an option.

Maybe the more fair - but tougher to enforce - thing would be to have a law insisting that workers get at least one day per week off, and if a Muslim or Jewish Sephora salesperson wants to be the, err, Shabbos Goy of high-end cosmetics, so be it. Or maybe it's really so terrible to have a day off that doesn't match up with that of the rest of society that if France's religious and cultural minorities are kind of screwed over, those are the breaks. But the whole 'how charming, a day of rest' approach always strikes me as, yes, missing something.


Quasimodo said...

Offtopic, but thought you might want to see this Gawker thread:

It pushes all the right buttons. Blonde, angelic, Nordic girl kidnapped by dark-haired ethnic minorities from the East!

As of this writing, there are 1000+ comments.

Phoebe said...

Ooh yes, I'd already seen that story, and even that thread, but had thus far resisted weighing in on account of the 1000+ thoughts I have on this story and the comments it has inspired, and where to begin?

-The blood libel association comes to mind (Jews falsely accused of killing and eating Christian children), but here it seems possible - but not certain - a child was abducted. Or was she? Was she - as some have pondered - abandoned and left with a Roma community? At this point there clearly has to be some investigation, but it's wrong to assume blond parents are necessarily the sort who'd be panicking wondering what had come of their kid. Nor are they necessarily in the developed world. There's that whole stretch of the world where they keep recruiting runway models from, because the population happens to resemble many Westerners, while actually being incredibly poor.

-Yes, the blondness made this child stand out, but would there have been equivalent hysteria if an East Asian- or African-looking child had been found?

-Sudden pangs of concern for a very nice family in my neighborhood who are all of color, except for one adopted child, who's very blond. I hope no racist authorities swoop in and decide this somehow can't be! Of course, the family are neither impoverished nor Roma, so that seems unlikely. But still! Let's not forget! Sometimes blond children are with non-blond families, and it's absolutely fine!

-The "Gypsies are dangerous" discussion... Do people not have any kind of historical memory? Where could expulsion possibly lead? I don't have the answer in terms of how integration might work - ideally in such a way as not to impose too much on a minority culture, while still insisting that the same law applies to all, Roma included. But that's so obviously the only approach. I don't know that much about the Roma community in particular, but from what I know of history, behind every 'they don't want to integrate' argument is a reality of a society unwilling to welcome whichever group is up for discussion.

-The inevitable assertions about how Jews allegedly refuse to admit that anyone non-Jewish suffered in WWII, which, no, sorry, Jews talk about this all the time. Holocaust education includes all the different badges and who had to wear which one why. But it sure is popular among anti-Semites today to insist upon the suffering of every group during WWII except for Jews.

Quasimodo said...

At this point there clearly has to be some investigation, but it's wrong to assume blond parents are necessarily the sort who'd be panicking wondering what had come of their kid.

You've just articulated what I was thinking but couldn't quite put into words.

I'm not sure if people realize that the orphanages of Eastern Europe are full of such children. These girls are often kidnapped, bought, sold, and traded around by their co-ethnics, all without much concern from the media. Actually, that's not quite true. There's a reason why the term "sex-trafficking" conjures up images of wide-eyed, Slavic maidens fresh from the Eurasian Steppe, rather than Bangladeshis or Guatemalans.

But the point remains, blond children trafficked around by Euros is just a sad fact of life we feel terrible about, but try our very best not to think about. But if people with appropriately Semitic features are involved, that is international news.

Sigivald said...

Shouldn't we care more about labor than some white lady's sense of entitlement to 24-7 access to the lip stain of her choice?

What if labor (the individual workers, not the laws pretending to "represent" the abstract social class "labor") wants the money instead of a forced day off?

Phoebe said...


This angle has come up a bit in some of the discussions. But it gets lost because of... the reasons you mention.