Brussels Stories: Shopping in a supermarket? On a Sunday? It's nothing short of a revolution

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A new supermarket has opened just 10 minutes' walk away, and our street can barely conceal its excitement. The reason? It's open on Sundays.

A new supermarket has opened just 10 minutes' walk away, and our street can barely conceal its excitement. The reason? It's open on Sundays.

For all of you on the other side of the Channel, this may hardly qualify as news.

But here in Brussels, it is little short of a revolution. Although the law does not prevent Sunday opening, supermarket shopping on the Sabbath is about as common a sight as an MEP paying for their own lunch.

The restriction on opening hours is just one of the ways in which life in Brussels resembles provincial England in the 1970s. Belgium never experienced Margaret Thatcher and, although it seems generally much happier for having been spared all that, the idea of a service culture did not really catch on.

The local bank obstinately refuses to open more than one window, even when the queue stretches almost out of the door. There seems nothing more guaranteed to cheer up a Belgian shop assistant than being able to keep a line of customers waiting while they elaborately wrap a purchase.

And one sandwich shop operates a Soviet-style system where you queue twice: once to order your baguette, then a second time to pay for it.

The upside is that the pace of life is more sane than in London: social niceties are maintained (customer and shop assistant must each greet each other with "bonjour" if the former is to stand any chance of being served) and your baguette is always freshly made.

Even after several years of waiting for this exciting moment, Sunday shopping at GB Express, on the Chausée de Waterloo, proves not to be the most glamorous of experiences. This being a small, local supermarket, the bread counter is cramped, several essential items aren't stocked and there's a lengthy queue at the checkout. But it's Sunday and it's open - welcome to the 1980s.

¿ The European Commission's constitutional crisis may have meant hours of fun for MEPs, but it has had serious consequences for the outgoing commissioners. Having packed their bags and, in many cases, sold or rented out their homes, they are having to stay on in Brussels until their successors have been approved by the European Parliament. The Kinnocks have got rid of their house, and the re-elected Glenys has moved into what she describes as a student-style flat share, with two MEP colleagues. The homeless Neil will sleep over during his stays in Brussels, making it even more like The Young Ones. Even Romano Prodi, the outgoing president, who had handed over his home to his brother Vittorio, a newly elected MEP, has had to ask if he can stay on.

For the incoming commissioners, without a proper job or salary, life is equally frustrating. The incoming president, José Manuel Barroso, has used the time to finalise the furnishing of his office in the Berlaymont building, with parquet flooring for his inner sanctum and (cheaper) brown carpet for the two outer rooms. Meanwhile, Britain's new commissioner, Peter Mandelson, is still looking, and currently rents a service flat.

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