It’s vide-greniers (literally ‘empty attics’) time again in France, when you can buy all sorts of things you didn’t know you needed for a knockdown price.
In our area, posters have been sprouting like mushrooms by the roadsides announcing where and when the next one will be held. From now till September, there’s at least one a week within a 10-kilometre radius. This is a favourite family weekend outing during the summer months.
Vide-greniers are good-natured affairs, where whole streets are closed off and people display their unwanted wedding presents, old school textbooks and rusting implements on picnic tables or simply on a tarpaulin spread on the ground. Hunting around for antiques is translated by a single word in French – chiner.
Sometimes they are combined with a brocante, or antiques fair, where the professionals’ stalls are instantly recognisable by the price labels (and the prices!).
The rules for exhibitors are quite strict. Frequently, you have to live in the commune where the event is held. Also, you are not normally allowed to do more than two vide-greniers per year. This is so that people are selling only personal effects and not making a living out of it and failing to declare the earnings.
We have done a few ourselves and each time, we made enough to pay for a decent restaurant meal. Here, I have to admit that my husband was much better than me at choosing things that would sell. I tried hard to dissuade him from including the car kiddie seats, the ancient slide projector and screen, the guitar player’s foot stand and the green painted wooden box. Naturally, they were the first things to be snapped up. The lesson is that it’s the unusual things that sell and not the bibelots, or nicknacks.
We went to today’s event in our village. Despite the weather (frequent heavy showers), you couldn’t get a parking place and crowds thronged the normally empty street. A buvette provided drinks and snacks. Whole families strolled up and down the ranks of stalls, greeting friends and generally having a good time.
You might not turn up a lost Corot or a first edition Proust, but there are bargains to be had. You can often find bits of furniture or decorative items that you have been looking for quite cheaply. Even if you don’t, vide-greniers are wonderful for people watching and for observing the French enjoying themselves in their understated way.
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