What do Sundays mean at OU? For me it always means church, brunch at Jefferson dining hall, homework, errand running and grocery shopping. Who needs a ride to Walmart?
Needless to say I was shocked when A.) I discovered that Walmart didn’t exist in France (okay, just kidding, I knew that would be the case), and B.) All of the markets and shops were closed on Sunday. Why would this be? Well, that’s because Sunday is the Lord’s day of course!
The French take Sundays very seriously. No business is conducted, no shopping is done and no one works but the restaurant chefs and waiters. This made me curious. How do the French actually feel about religion? After all, their country is run by many Catholic principles that are still in place today – like the fact that all public schools are run by the Catholic calendar, giving students breaks during the Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. Plus, there are art museum full of artwork that depicts images of Jesus and the crucifixion everywhere, there are glorious cathedrals and churches in every city and there are even golden Virgin Mary statues on buildings and monuments all throughout the country. I decided to talk to a few French people to find out about their religious beliefs.
Of course, my findings are not true of all French people. However, from my research, I found that many were raised Catholic, but then decided to stop practicing for one reason or another. Indeed, the pews in the Catholic mass I attended in Avignon were not as full as I expected. Mass there was very formal – more formal than mass on Easter Sunday at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, in fact. At Notre Dame they had rock music and people were clapping their hands along to the beat. I would be lying if I said that I was not completely shocked by that, although it was a pleasant surprise. On the other hand, at the Protestant church I attended, although the music was fairly formal as it included hymns and organ music, the service was relatively contemporary. The entire thing was run by a woman, communion was taken in a large circle and I was even invited to a youth picnic outing organized by the pastor. On a side-note, I can definitely say that this church had the best communion I have ever had: baguette and red wine. So French.
Though evidence of Christianity and especially Catholicism can be found almost anywhere in the country, ironically, the policy of the separation between church and state is strongly enforced in France. For example, in public schools, students and teachers are not allowed to wear or display any form of of paraphernalia like a cross necklace, a Star of David or even a headscarf worn my many Islamic women. This recent ban of headscarves has actually been a source of current controversy in the country. Although many people may claim that they don’t practice a certain religion, it seems that everybody still wants the freedom to be able proclaim it if they do.
As a result of a conversation about dinnertime rituals, a Frenchman commented that he thinks Americans are more religious than the French. In France, everyone wishes each other a “Bon Appetit” before starting a meal. He asked me what the equivalent was in English. I told him that we either said the same, but with a horrible American accent, or sometimes people pray or say a blessing before a meal. Perhaps this is a custom not as commonly practiced in France, but is religion in fact more important to Americans than the French? That, of course, can only be determined with further research, more conversations and probably more communion baguettes.