It’s against the law to shop on a Sunday

I peered down the shopping street that I live by this morning and found it completely empty. Typically packed with shoppers, Bogstadveien, one of Oslo’s biggest shopping streets, was a ghost town.

That’s because it’s Sunday which in Norway means that everything is closed. Everything. You can’t go to the mall or the bookstore, you can’t even do a proper grocery shop. We spend Saturday afternoons hoarding milk and fortifying our non-perishable food stores as if we’re preparing for the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

I may have dealt with this with a bit more grace had weekday shopping hours not been so equally astounding: shops close at 6pm except Thursday, which is Norway’s big shopping day with stores open until…. (drumroll please)… 7 o’clock.

Bogstadveien Sunday

Grocery stores are open until 10pm six days a week but there’s more to the day-to-day necessities than food – light bulbs, prescription medication, books, furniture, umbrellas, scarves, gloves, winter boots, birthday gifts. If you work full-time, the weekend is all you’ve got.

Correction: You’ve got half a day of shopping on Saturday and then Sunday everything is closed. Stengt! As the Norwegians write on their shop doors.

And it’s all Sylvia Brustad’s fault.

This is social engineering gone too far. I can’t sit in a café and have an orange scone but I can take a Taekwondo class and work on my gluteal muscles on a Sunday.

Sylvia is a former Norwegian politician and is the culprit behind a law that prohibits shops larger than 1,000-square-feet from opening on Sundays or holidays. It’s because of her that it is against the law to make Sunday grocery day. The law defining the size of shops allowed to operate on a Sunday is called Brustadbua which means “Brustad shacks,” named after the politician herself.

After the law passed in the late 1990s a convenience store chain called Bunn Pris started designing stores to fit the 1,000-square-foot Brustadbua law allowing it to open seven days a week. I’ve hit up these Bunn Pris a few times as a last resort. The shops are narrow, the produce is poor, selection is limited and overpriced (compared to the already shockingly expensive groceries available on other days).

Besides Bunn Pris and its competitors there are a few cafes open on Sundays for four glorious hours. But I learned the hard way to avoid cafes on a Sunday because they tend to be overcrowded with Norwegians desperate to socialize over espresso on God’s day of rest.

Remarkably our gym is open every single day – even on Christmas – and it takes up way more space than 1,000-square-feet. Plus they keep enough staff on Sundays to provide babysitting for fitness-frenzied parents. Gyms are apparently exempt from the Brustadbua law on the basis of a non-consumption loophole.

StengtThis is social engineering gone too far. I can’t sit in a café and have an orange scone but I can take a Taekwondo class and work on my gluteal muscles on a Sunday.

When I first moved to Norway I was surprised that no one was trying to change the limited shopping hours here. I figured it was in the interest of businesses and consumers to have more options. At first I wondered if Norwegians reserved Sundays for God, but only 1% of the population regularly attend church.

If they aren’t at church, where is everyone? And why aren’t they annoyed that nothing is open?

Per, a Norwegian friend, clued me in. “You should head into the woods, most of Oslo is hiking or skiing on Sundays,” he says. If Per and his family of four aren’t “spending time with nature,” as he puts it, they are with family members that live around town.

According to Per the Norwegian interpretation to the “day of rest” is that there should be one day where a majority of the workforce has the day off so that families can spend quality time together.

“If each parent has a different day off the whole family can’t really get together,” he told me, clearly not understanding my consternation with this government-enforced family time.

Per, along with his Norwegian pals, are completely in sync with the law that gives me the Sunday blues.


27 thoughts on “It’s against the law to shop on a Sunday

  1. I remember Sunday closing here in England. We changed a number of years ago. Sunday is now the biggest shopping day for the weekly food shop. Somehow I wonder if slowing down for one day a week is perhaps a good thing. However, must run, got the weekly shop to do now. . .

    • I had to adjust to the opening/closing times when I moved to London (lived there four years) but I was able to understand the logic behind the hours there. I appreciated that on Sundays and even weekdays things were open at convenient times and liked that shopkeepers and retailers were probably happy having more time off, as compared to the horrendous hours they have to work in the US. It really taught me how incredibly consumerist American society has become. But the shift to the hours in Norway has just been too much for me. It largely has to do with the fact that we don’t have any extended relatives to spend our Sundays with, but even on weekdays I struggle to get things done outside of work.

      Coincidentally I was in London last Sunday and was shocked to see how busy Canary Wharf shopping was!

      • I guess, like everything else in life, it’s trying to find a balance. Society, in my opinion, is too work orientated. Difficult to earn and spend on the mortgage, kids etc. but I do think our lives are too ‘consumer-led’. Good luck with fitting in your food shop!

  2. I would imagine that Sunday shopping will happen there in the future. In the UK there was no Sunday shopping until relatively recently, and even now it is only with shortened hours. It just gets to a point where the consumers start shouting louder than the family advocates and would seem pretty inevitable.

    • It probably will slowly shift to opening hours that I can agree with, although the few Norwegians that I’ve spoken to about this don’t like that idea. They really appreciate having one day in the week where there’s no shopping frenzy. It’s possible that in Oslo and Stavanger, where there is a bigger international community, things could change. Cross your fingers it happens before I move! I sometimes wonder though if it’ll be an adjustment for me when I move to the US eventually… nah.

  3. I like the idea that they’re closed on Sundays, I miss that here in the UK. Sundays used to be a day when we’d do things as a family, be outdoors, just generally enjoy! But now it’s just te same as any other day, Saturday and Sunday just merge into one where there always seems to be something to buy, some busy retail park to go to, some other expense.
    Our shops even opened on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day this time, to me notmonlymis that family and relaxation time, but its also very hard on the people who work in retail, to only give them Christmas Day off!

    • You’re right that there should be limits so that families can enjoy time together outside of a mall environment. It’s crazy to hear about Black Friday in the US – the day after Thanksgiving when everyone goes shopping crazy and stores cash in on the madness with sales. Black Friday has seeped into Thanksgiving Day so that now, not even holidays are sacred.

  4. I spent about 10 years of my life living in Germany, and teh shopping rules are about the same. Frankly, I liked it and I think it is a good idea. It allows the Germans, and the Norwegians, to have a LIFE with their friends and family. Unlike America, where mostly empty stores can be found open sometimes 24/7 and even on important holidays.

  5. I vaguely remember a previous blog of yours where you were looking for something “bad” about living in Norway. Looks like you found one.

  6. Interesting story, especially that most of the people spend the day in the country. North Dakota used to be closed on Sunday except for cafes, grocery stores and pharmacies. They were called blue laws. It changed because of the people who have Saturday church and wanted to have a shopping day on the weekend.

  7. In our little village all the supermarkets are actually open on Sundays from early morning til late, as we are considered as a “ski resort”. Works well for us as I haven’t learned to plan food shopping in advance and especially in the weekends it’s sometimes nice to get some special unplanned treats 🙂 But you’re right, it’s hard to get anything done on weekdays when you work full time and everything closes early.

  8. Wow, Norway sounds amazing! They actually have a society that values families over consumerism. The only drawback is the cold weather.

  9. I understand the inconvenience aspects of their system, but putting social engineering concerns aside, I think the Norwegians have the right idea. Our 24/7 consumer culture here in the US is at the opposite end of the spectrum, and if I had a choice, I’d vote for their weekly-day-of-no-shopping here too. I imagine the Norwegians have a more connected family life than we do, and their emphasis on outdoor activities has well-proven health and stress-relieving benefits. So hurray for them! (Congrats on being featured in the Daily Post, by the way. That’s how I found you.)

  10. Hi there! Just discovered your blog 🙂 I can somewhat relate to certain things. In regards to this shopping thing, I don’t mind stores being closed on Sunday either, except for the fact that while living in Denmark Sunday was -mostly – the only day of the week I could have in fact, relaxed at a café or window shopped at leisure (I’m by no means a shopper, so no real shock there). I don’t know, it’s not so much about being able to shop per se, but SEEING people on the streets. Not having family or a ton of close friends when I lived there, I missed it all the more; I missed the movement, the life, the notion of something happening… I’m a big ‘people watcher’, you see. Keep the posts coming. I’ll certainly keep reading.

    • Hi there! Thanks so much for your lovely comments. I love a good afternoon of people watching too. It’s strange how even Norwegians struggle to get shopping and errands done around the short opening hours. There’s been some talk recently amongst politicians to change the Sunday laws because shopping habits have changed, we’ll see if it happens soon enough for me.

    • I guess it’s a good thing in some ways, but I still find it rather hard to be forced to keep it easy on a Sunday. What if I want to relax on Saturday instead of having to run around to all the shops before they close for the weekend?

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