Remember when stores were closed on holidays?

I had to run some errands today: Trader Joe’s, Petco and the hardware store. Lots of other people were out shopping too. When I was a kid, of course, this would not have been possible—nothing was open on Easter Sunday. All the stores were closed on all the holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Lincoln’s Birthday, July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day… So people learned to shop ahead. Even if we weren’t having guests over for holiday dinner, Mom didn’t want to run out of bread or milk with three kids in the house. (For that matter, one had to shop ahead every week: fresh bread wasn’t available on Wednesdays and Sundays. My father always went out on Saturday mornings to buy warm French bread, just off the delivery truck.)

America, at least, has turned 180° — now stores are open 365 days a year. I didn’t bother to check whether Trader Joe’s or Petco would be open, because I knew they would. I wasn’t so sure about the hardware store (a local independent), but it turns out I needn’t have worried.

In contrast, my favorite bakery, Cheeseboard, in the “Gourmet Ghetto” area of Berkeley, is a throwback to the old days. They close for all sorts of celebrations: May Day, Columbus Day (here called Indigenous Peoples Day), winter vacation, summer vacation. If you want your bread, pizza and cheese, you have to watch their calendar and plan ahead.

During a trip to France years ago, Arlene and I stopped in Lyon for a few days. One particular Thursday we walked to a museum, only to find it was locked up. Suddenly it occurred to us that the streets were unusually quiet. Oh no, is this a holiday? we groaned. We asked an elderly lady on the street, who told us that, mais oui, today was Pentecost. Zut alors! It hadn’t occurred to me to consult a calendar of Catholic holidays before our trip—something I now do every time we go to Europe. I forget what we did that day, and we did eventually make it back to the museum. But we learned our lesson.

Culture Clash, or why the Americans and Japanese build cars differently

I just listened to an excellent This American Life episode on the NUMMI plant in my hometown of Fremont, California. The NUMMI plant used to be the General Motors plant, built in 1962 but closed down in 1982. A Toyota-GM joint venture was launched, and the plant reopened in 1984 as the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. The NUMMI staff went to Japan to learn the Toyota Way, and it worked: the NUMMI plant was far more productive than the old GM plant was, even though they were largely employing the same people.

For a variety of social reasons, however, GM couldn’t reproduce on its own the success of the NUMMI joint venture. GM pulled out of NUMMI last June, and Toyota later decided to shut down the plant. The last car rolled off the line the day before yesterday—yes, on April Fools Day.

But really: listen to the podcast. It’s very well done.