Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Pearl in Doha

We’ve been watching the creation of a whole new living area in Doha, the Pearl. Like the palm tree in Bahrain, and similar creations in the UAE, the islands are being created with materials from destroyed buildings, and landfill.

In Qatar, it will be one of two areas where non-Qatteris can buy property, the other being the West Bay Lagoon, near where The Pearl is also being created by the Al Fardan Group.

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Sorry for the poor photo quality, but it’s taken through the airplane window. Aargh. It’s interesting seeing where the channels are being dredged for the private boat docks.

January 28, 2007 Posted by | Doha, Geography / Maps, Middle East, Political Issues, Social Issues, Uncategorized | 17 Comments

Germany’s culture of shopping slowly changing

Little Diamond forwarded this to me from the Chicago Tribune. The battle to extend shopping hours in Germany has been going on for years. As the hours increase, the annual birthday celebrations described in the preceding blog entry will pass into “olden day traditions.”

By Tom Hundley
BERLIN – Unlike America, Germany has not yet adopted the shop-till-you-drop lifestyle, but things are starting to change.

Even in bustling cities like Berlin and Frankfurt, retailers used to roll up the sidewalks at 6:30 p.m. On weekends, Germans had to scramble to get their shopping done by 2 p.m. on Saturday. Sunday shopping was strictly verboten.

But a long battle over longer store hours is slowly being won by retailers who believe that more hours mean more money in the cash register. They are opposed by Germany’s powerful trade unions whose leaders say workers’ rights must be protected.

The gradual loosening of strict rules governing store hours also reflects a larger battle to loosen up a German economy that suffers from sluggish growth and 9.6 percent unemployment. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government says it is eager for reform, but it has decided to leave the issue of store hours to local governments.

These days, the Galeria Kaufhof, a newly renovated department store in the heart of the former East Berlin’s shopping district, is crowded with customers until 10 p.m.

“Seven years ago we started a small revolution here in Berlin when we said we are opening on Sundays,” said Detlef Steffens, the store manager.

“We discovered a loophole: according to the law, you could open on Sunday if you were selling souvenirs, so we put stickers that said `souvenirs’ on all the merchandise,” he said.

“We were sued by other store owners. But that started an avalanche.”

Steffens’ store took its case to Germany’s federal constitutional court. The court rejected its arguments but said the particulars of Sunday shopping hours should be regulated by local authorities.

The Berlin city government decided to allow stores to open on six Sundays a year. Last year, it extended the number to 10, plus three extra Sundays during the World Cup soccer tournament.

Last November, Berlin threw caution to the wind and adopted a modified version of America’s 24/7 consumer ethos. Call it 24/6 – non-stop shopping for six days of the week and 10 Sundays.

The Galeria has opted to stay open until 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and until 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The extra hours have increased revenue and enabled the store to hire 50 more employees, for a total of 1,080.

Steffens says his employees have generally been supportive of the longer hours.

“It’s an East-West thing,” he said, referring to the lingering psychological divide that still separates Germans who grew up in prosperous West Germany from those who experienced communist East Germany.

Almost all of Steffens’ employees are from the East. Those from the West, he said, are more likely to resist changes proposed by management.

“The trade unions are not so different from East to West, but worker councils in the East are more realistic. Here there’s more of a collective mentality: We are one team; it means our jobs,” he said.

Cornelia Hass, a spokeswoman for Ver.di, a large trade union that represents service employees, says the union’s position is that “everyone should have the liberty to work (non-traditional hours), but nobody has to work these hours.”

Hass disputes the argument that more hours mean more revenue and more jobs.

“People don’t buy more just because they can do it 24 hours a day. You can only spend the euro in your pocket once,” she said.

While acknowledging that store hours have to reflect people’s changing lifestyles, she said Germany already has “more square meters of shopping opportunity per consumer than Europe or the United States” and that fierce competition among retailers was forcing them to trim personnel.

There’s also a quality-of-life issue.

“I really believe that Sunday is the day when everyone who doesn’t need to work, shouldn’t work,” Hass said. “Society needs to lay back for one day, to find time for friends and family.” She also noted that of the 3 million retail workers represented by Ver.di, 80 percent were women, and most had families.

“They need their Sundays,” she said.

The union is supporting three retail workers who have filed a lawsuit challenging Berlin’s new Sunday opening hours.

But most of Germany’s 16 federal states appear to be following Berlin’s example and extending store hours.

Some small merchants are worried, fearing that extended hours by large retailers will force them to attempt the same.

“It’s a problem for us,” said Michael Turberg, who owns a Berlin toy store famous for model trains.

“We are rather specialized and we need staff of high quality. When you are open longer, you need more staff of high quality. It’s not easy to find staff, and it’s not easy to pay them.”

That’s not a problem for Mohamed Wehbe and his family. Immigrants from Lebanon, they run a small shop that sells snacks, groceries, cigarettes and newspapers. It’s open 365 days a year.

When they started their business a few years ago, and kept it open until midnight, they got a polite letter from Berlin authorities advising them to observe the legal opening hours.

“We didn’t know about such laws,” said Wehbe.

Under the new law, the shop is open from 6 a.m. until midnight.

For Wehbe and many other immigrant entrepreneurs, there are scarcely enough hours in a day for earning money.

“This summer,” he said, “we’re going 24/7.”

January 28, 2007 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Generational, Germany, Living Conditions, News, Shopping, Social Issues | Leave a comment