Saturday, 31 July 2010

Chiner: to bargain hunt

Vide-grenier means 'empty attic', for in the old days an attic was where you stored your grain, hence 'grenier'. It's certainly a more romantic expression than car boot sale. In France you will hear several expressions for places where you can buy second hand things: brocantes; which generally consists of professional stall holders selling rather expensive antiques; marché aux puces or flea market, which is a mix of old clothes and antiques, often professionals. The best are vide-greniers where you get genuine amateurs; I've bought huge copper jam making pans from them for 4 euros, wood burning stoves in enamel for 10 euros, vintage pinnys for 3 euros, wet suits for a few euros, all kinds of bargains. There are guides you can buy and websites. One year I must make the effort to go to the Braderie de Lille, held the first weekend of September every year. This market apparently covers miles and goes on till late. A friend of mine rented a van, drove over for a weekend and returned with enough to furnish a whole house, brass beds, antique doors and all, at a knock down price.
Down here near Grimaud I go to the Jas des Robert, a brocante/vide-grenier held every Sunday in the car park of a restaurant. I go every Sunday, and even in the height of summer, when it is thronging with tourists, there are some bargains to be had. In winter, there are fewer stalls, but as the seasonal summer work has dried up, the stall holders prices can be driven down. One week we saw Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp walking around the Jas des Robert. Nobody bothered them. Except my teen and her friends. Johnny was very polite and friendly, even thanked them for liking his films. I think he was interested in the fact that they were bilingual children, just like his children with Vanessa. My teen and her friends didn't wash their hands for days, having shaken with him.
The French being the administrative ass clenchers that they are, at the Jas des Robert they take your passport when you have a stall, and if you go to sell more than four times in a year, they report you to the tax authorities. People made fun of George W. Bush when he said that the "French don't even have a word for entrepeneur" but he had a point. It's so difficult to do anything here. Did you know that 'Soldes' or 'Sales' are heavily restricted by the French authorities? So that some shops do not have an unfair advantage over others? The sign 'Soldes' can only be used at certain times of the year, with notice being given by the local government. 
 Honey from local flowers and, a speciality of the region, chestnut honey.

 My buys this week: three silver plated ladles and two fork for 10 euros; two vintage linen tea towels, 5 euros each; a dozen vintage aprons 30 euros. And a refreshing Pastis up at the bar when I'd finished. Thirsty work!

 1950s cotton summer dresses on one stall. But 50 euros each...

 Vintage soda siphons: pretty but 60 euros each. A bargain, the stallholder assured me.

 Savon de marseille, made from olive oil, is famous, these are some vintage blocks.

 Old baguette baskets, why didn't I buy them? 20 euros though...

 I love the blue and white containers for flour, sugar and spices.

 Some more buys: violet syrup, gros sel (always buy some when in France), vintage blue and white plates, a euro each, little blue bowls, modern, 1.5 euros each, glass from La Rochere and garlic called 'ail violet' which should last up to a year.

Another good site to find vide-greniers.


  1. lovely, lovely, lovely! Not so cheap though. 60 euros for a soda syphon is a bit steep; that's a shop price. There's nothing like rifling through other people's junk - amazing what some people throw out. As you, and some of your readers may know, I just about make a living out of 'up-cycling', working on the principle of 'one man's trash is another man's treasure'. All this stuff still has a use, and we should be doing everything we can to keep it out of landfill. If there's a little bit of cash in it, so much the better.

    As for the French regulations, there are upsides to it - one of the reasons that the regions keep their local food so prominent is (I believe) down to a law that cites that a certain percentage of any supermarche goods must come from within a 25km radius. Local food for local people. This cuts down food miles, and more importantly connects people with their daily bread, wherever they do their shopping. And of course, keeps a fair percentage of the money spent in said supermarche in the local area. I may be wrong about this; maybe you could throw some light on it?

    Bonne vacances!
    C x

  2. I thought it was quite expensive too!
    The supermarkets do seem to have more local food, particularly wine, than here.
    But it costs £5k to get a space on a shelf at Tescos, £250 an hour for one of Tesco's staff to do a demo of your product. The supermarkets here do not educate their staff to know about the food they are selling.
    The amount of times I have been into a supermarket and asked if they have a certain product and the staff simply don't know what it is. Eventually I find it myself. Part of the problem round where I live is the staff are often foreign and only know about their own foods. I think the supermarkets should be giving tasters and teaching their staff about food. After all they make enough profit!
    None of our major supermarkets, I don't know about Waitrose, give a toss about food really, it's about the money I get the impression from talking to small food producers.
    The French are still more educated about food, and insist on good products although big business and multi-nationals are diluting that knowledge and savoir faire.

  3. it gets a bit worrying when old stuff sells more expensively than new things. I think it's called rip-off. Pretty, though.


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