A Belgian in the North Country: night is for sleeping

We had just finished doing the dishes, around 8 pm on a Saturday eve, when my host mom announced we were going to the grocery store. I was surprised and asked, “Are there stores open after 8?” It seems the United States has 24-hour stores. My first thought was, “Do people really do their grocery shopping at night here in the North Country?”

Now let me tell you about Belgium

Stores are not open 24 hours a day. There are night stores but it’s not the same concept. Basically, it means they open late in the evening and they close early in the morning. You can buy the same things as you can buy in the grocery store, but you won’t pay the same. If you fancy a cheap wine, you better not forget to shop during the day. Night stores buy their items in normal grocery stores but they add a little fee for being open at night. So they are without a doubt more expensive than day stores.

I worked as a student in a grocery store for almost three years, and to be honest, I can’t imagine myself working during the night. The store I worked in is open from 8:30 am till 8 pm. But the first working shift starts at 6 am. Early birds prepare for opening. Fridays are different. Then customers can push their carts through the store until 9 pm. Of course there is more than one supermarket chain in Belgium. All chains have their own openings hours, but most of them close between 6 and 8 pm.

Opening hours Colruyt. Photo: Mattias A.

Sorry, we’re closed

Stores are closed on Sunday. You might find a store or two open on Sunday near the place you stay or live. And if they are open, mostly they close at noon. So if you are planning to have a big lunch or party with friends on Sunday, you better do your shopping another day. Also, because the stores that are open are crowed with all those people who forgot something during their grocery shopping.

Change for Belgium?

Belgians do not really feel the need to open a grocery store at night, or at least not in the same way as, for example, Price Chopper. Maybe some people might like it because it is useful if you forgot something.

I asked some of my friends in Belgium about this. “I think it’s useful to have it, but we do not really need it,” said Milo. Céline agrees with him and said, “I think it is useful for if I forgot something, but I prefer stores to be open on Sunday rather than at night.” Chelsea thinks it is mostly useful for work related reasons. She said, “It is useful for those who are working in shifts, so they can go to the store after work, and just paying the same as during the day.”

Employees of supermarkets do not really see a reason to be open at night. “It is already hard for young mothers who work here to find daycare for their children during the day, at night that might even be harder,” Sonja said. Natalie said, “It might affect the atmosphere. And to be honest, customers have enough time during the day to do their shopping.”

Student @work

You might not be familiar with the term student @work. In Belgium working as a student means that you are allowed to work 50 days a year without paying taxes. Students receive the total amount of money as long as they do not break any of the rules of the student contract.

 Melissa Callaert is working as an intern at North Country Public Radio for the Spring 2016 semester.

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3 Comments on “A Belgian in the North Country: night is for sleeping”

  1. Pamela Thacher says:

    A refreshing take on an issue dear to my heart — the human body did not evolve for shift work; you can only push your body so far before you begin to feel the effects in your health, your mood, and your thinking. Europe is having serious and troubling crises in certain arenas, but in their attitude towards the work-life balance (a shorter work week, longer, mandated vacations, and this “night is for sleeping” attitude) — how wonderful! Those habits pay serious benefits to their citizens.

    One side effect of working the night shift is chronic sleep deprivation — your body doesn’t sleep as well or as deeply during the day, compared to the night. There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is considered torture by the Geneva Convention: it creates intense suffering, and in the long run, sleep deprivation will kill you (literally).

  2. Pete Klein says:

    There was a time in this country, as recently as the 60’s, when hardly anything was open on Sunday and even fewer stores were open late at night.
    Of course, bars and entertainment establishments were open late but little else was.
    I don’t recall that being a hardship.
    If you go back even more, TV stations signed off before midnight and didn’t come back on until 6 a.m.

  3. stillin says:

    Oh I loved the old ways, old days….yes, stores were not open on Sunday, families were together then. You would need to remember what you would have to have, so you wouldn’t NEED to go to a store at night. I loved our old ways…and fear the tunnel we have fallen into has no bottom….non stop technology, stores open on holidays, and of course, our 24-7 sports. It’s just a big , black hole of oozing guck to me, meaningless.

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