Sauf exception

Sauf exceptionThe first time I heard the expression ‘sauf exception’ I was sure it was a mistake. Except for exceptions? It sounded like the invention of a bureaucrat somewhere in an ivory tower, a grammatically clunky attempt to make sure there is always a way out of any situation.

Here in the land of the galls (et oui!), it is a useful phrase indeed. There are a lot of rules in France. But never fear – there are always exceptions.

You get used to hearing people say things like:

“En principe, c’est interdit, mais…” (In principle, it’s not allowed, but…”)

“Théoriquement, je n’ai pas le droit…” (“Theoretically, I’m not supposed to…”)

One exception to the exceptions – l’exception qui confirme la règle – is grammar. French is full of rules. Mostly they are unavoidable. There is the small matter of gender, verb groups and little ditties like the COD (complément d’objet direct) vs. the COI (complément d’objet indirect) that affect structure and endings.

I fought against them at first. “But surely you don’t mean that every time I say something, I have to remember whether it’s masculine or feminine?” Et oui….sauf exception. Language is one of the areas of French life with the most rules but relatively few exceptions. You just have to learn them. Suck it up and move on. And, as anyone who has ever tried to learn the language of Shakespeare can tell you, we English-speakers are in no position to complain.

When it comes to the rest, however, you learn to adapt. When we first moved to Lyon, the closest school was just two blocks away. I was thrilled until I discovered that we were in a different arrondissement, and therefore in another périmètre scolaire, whose school was much further away – and in a dingier neighbourhood. Then I learned I could request une dérogation. Both parents had to work, mother was pregnant, bla bla bla…an exception was made.

This lesson served me well. It taught me never to assume that a situation couldn’t be adapted, negotiated or remedied. And that in France, just like the whole world over, rules are meant to be broken. Sauf exception.

It seems that France has now decided to allow exceptions to the rules on Sunday and late-night openings for stores located in tourist areas. See the article in the NY Post on French opening hours. What do you think?


  1. Food,Photography & France · August 27, 2015

    I live with this stuff too….I’ve grown to love it….sort of Stockholm syndrome:)

    • MELewis · August 27, 2015

      Ha, ha….I get that, Roger. You do get used to the loopholes. Then go back to an English-speaking country and feel like an outsider when you try to bend the rules!

  2. Mél@nie · August 27, 2015

    @”rules are meant to be broken. Sauf exception.” – exactement et bien-vu… 🙂 yep, French is full of bizarre rules!!! 😀

    • MELewis · August 27, 2015

      It takes some getting used to…but the exceptions do make it easier! Merci mon amie!

  3. davidprosser · August 27, 2015

    Sauf exception is good if it means more jobs are available and shop hours are more convenient for some. Sunday opening is sure to mean an increase inspending.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • MELewis · August 27, 2015

      I agree, David, and the French economy could certainly do with the boost. There will be plenty of detractors, though, who will evoke the end of the Sunday lunch, a traditional time for families. Hopefully there is room for both. Bises xo

  4. cheergerm · August 27, 2015

    It is a shame to think of that lovely Sunday family lunch tradition changing but when the economy is suffering? Hopefully, as you said, a middle ground will be found.

    • MELewis · August 27, 2015

      Exceptions have been made on Sunday mornings for years for things like bakeries, supermarkets and garden centres…now it’s just the shops in places like the Champs-Elysées that will be allowed to open on Sundays. While some will call it ‘the thin edge of the wedge’, I think the change is inevitable. And the French will always find time for lunch! 😉

      • midihideaways · August 31, 2015

        i’m not so sure that putting commerce first is a good idea. It’s not just that Sunday shopping may become a national pastime, with stores at their fullest, just as they are in other countries on Sundays, it will also mean that for many people working on Sunday will become mandatory. Family time will shrink more, with the bonding done in hypermarkets, looking at things which could have been bought during the week, or which one doesn’t need to buy in the first place. And yes, Sunday opening will put even more pressure on small shops… I’m definitely not against flexibility, and being able to pick up things you forgot to buy for Sunday lunch is definitely a plus. But in the end it’s the big guys that are going to make even more money and the culture of Sunday as a day of rest is going to be eroded – slowly at first…

  5. Osyth · August 27, 2015

    I have watched the change in the UK over many years and it is a little like Groundhog day now being in France and watching the same process begin. Personally, I think that it is as important to feed the economy as it is to feed the family lunch and guess what France? You can always decide NOT to shop on a Sunday … just a thought from old Bolshy here in Cantal 😉

    • MELewis · August 27, 2015

      You and I are definitely on the same page, Mrs. Cantal. We all have choices, right? But I can just hear my French friends complaining that they will soon all be forced to work on weekends….clearly, Sunday store openings herald the end of the world as we know it! 😕

  6. Suzanne et Pierre · August 27, 2015

    Nice post as usual…and exceptions are indeed a way of life in France. It always surprised me that they always want a rule or law for everything but then no one really pays attention or ensure that the new rule or law is implemented…an interesting way of dealing with things…

    As for shopping on Sunday, I have very mixed feeling. I remember that whem we arrived in Paris we found it refreshing that the city was so quiet on Sundays because stores were closed. It made for a day of rest for everyone and a welcome break in the intensity of the city. It was certainly a change from the situation in Toronto when stores are at their fullest on Sundays. I still don’t know if it is a good idea or not but then again in a competitive environment those who want to open should be allowed…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · August 27, 2015

      Suzanne, I do agree that there can be too much of a good thing and the rampant consumer society is one of the reasons we left Toronto. To me there needs to be some flexibility. Unfortunately, while the French do some things amazingly well, flexibility is not one of them. 😉

      • Suzanne et Pierre · August 27, 2015

        I am totally with you on flexibility or lack of. I have found it strange that “soldes” and other such commercial things are mandated and that shop owners can’t decide when it makes sense for him/her to discount prices…It is the same for Sunday openings, I prefer it when it is closed but I think that if an owner determine that it would be beneficial for his/her business then they should be allowed to open.

      • MELewis · August 27, 2015


  7. Jacqui Murray · August 28, 2015

    Interesting. I took French in school and remember all the ‘exceptions’. In college, I took Russian. One quite appealing characteristic of that language is that, although it has a lot of rules, it tends to follow them. With few exceptions.

    • MELewis · August 28, 2015

      Wow, Russian? You are a brave literary soul. Kudos! 🙂

  8. coteetcampagne · August 29, 2015

    I’m with you & Osyth, we do have choices, but watching what has happened to small businesses in France over the last few years has been heart-breaking.
    We did notice some green shoots this year, businesses & their owners seem less stretched and stressed.
    Things do change, it’s the way of the world

    • MELewis · August 31, 2015

      It’s sad though, especially as change brings new opportunity. Either the French are not entrepreneurially inclined or they are lacking the necessary conditions to grow and renew. You can’t stop the wave of change, and as they in French, ‘il faut bouger avec son temps.’ Hopefully the positive signs you have observed of late will be confirmed.

Leave a Reply to cheergerm Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s