French car boot sales – vide-greniers

Just what you were looking for… © Photoxpress

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.

Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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4 Responses to French car boot sales – vide-greniers

  1. Lore says:

    Sounds like fun! I would’ve probably spent the entire day looking at furniture.

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  2. nessafrance says:

    Salut, Frank,
    Thanks for your comment. I suppose some money must change hands, especially where they have to pay for the pitch. However, since a lot of it appears again next year you have to wonder. We have picked up a few things but you have to look hard amongst the junk. The social element is the thing, though.

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  3. Frank says:

    Bonjour Vanessa

    Our local brocante was Sunday too – it’s combined with a flower fair (little more than a selection of the usual annuals and young veg actually). Yep, it rained – of course – but it’s still a fun event.

    In fact I’m convinced the whole thing is just a social – because certainly it’s rare to find anything that’s a bargain. We think the locals are not really trying to sell at all. They empty the attic, sure, but then sit around chatting all day and having a few drinks. If you make a sensible offer for something all you get is a scowl or a shake of the head.

    Then come sun-down they put it all back in the attic. After all, if they sold it, what would they do next year? It must take a lifetime to collect that kind of junk!

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