People-Watching at the Vide-Grenier

The SF awaiting our first customers (note the gloves)

The SF awaiting our first customers (note the gloves)

As a writer, I find people-watching fascinating. And what better place to do it than at a vide-grenier (car boot sale)? We had a stand at our local village’s effort last Sunday, which gave numerous opportunities to indulge in one of my favourite pastimes.

These events are very popular in France, especially during these times of economic hardship when everyone is looking for a bargain. During the summer, at least one per weekend will take place in our area. Sunday’s was in aid of the local school and is one of the biggest. Someone said they had around 125 exhibitors and the stands stretched up both sides of the street for about 300 metres.

You sign an undertaking not to do more than two other vide-greniers during the year, to prove that it is not a regular source of income. However, wandering up and down the street, I noticed stands selling only watches and jewellery or clothing. Hard to believe that they were private individuals.

Dynamics of the day

The dynamics of a vide-grenier are interesting. They start early: this one kicked off at 6 am. We rolled up about 7 am, having scraped the frost off the cars. It was +1.5°C on Sunday morning and we were sporting several layers, woolly hats and gloves. The serious dealers were already in full swing, spotting items for resale, hassling the stallholders as they unpacked and then haggling hard about the price.

The morning is clearly the best time to sell. People who are serious about finding particular items come then. We did much more trade than in the afternoon. Things calm down a lot at lunchtime. Also, it was la fête des Mères (Mother’s Day), so Sunday lunch was probably even more protracted than usual.

The afternoon was warm and sunny; an unusual event this year. It was even a bit too hot at our pitch and we were glad of the shade of a small tree. The rhythm changed noticeably after lunch. Families strolled up and down the middle of the road, enjoying their Sunday promenade and barely looking at the wares. By around 17h30, it was obvious that it was over and the stallholders started packing up, almost as one.

Sunday promenade

Sunday promenade

The range of merchandise is interesting, too. Vide-grenier means, literally, “empty attic” and some of the stuff on sale – including most of our own – looked as if it had reposed in one for decades. We saw a host of varied items, including assorted kitchenware, unidentified but murderous-looking agricultural implements, light fittings of unbelievable hideousness and clothes that were in fashion in the seventies.

The rest of our pitch

The rest of our pitch

Haggling Heaven

People were haggling more this year than at previous vide-greniers we have done. Trying to persuade them to part with a couple of euros for items they would have paid several tens of euros for in a shop stretched our limited negotiating skills to the limit.

You have to praise some people’s persistence when it comes to persuading their partner. One lady admired our twin CD towers.

“Look,” she said, pulling her husband’s sleeve. “That’s just what we need.” He glanced disdainfully at them and wandered off. After asking the price she went off in pursuit of him.

A few minutes later she was back, sans mari. She confirmed the price and disappeared again. Le mari obviously held the purse strings.

Shortly afterwards she reappeared. “I need to find out if these have the right dimensions. I live just down there. Could I possibly borrow one and check?” She even offered us some money as surety. Since we recognised her as a villager, we refused the money and let her borrow the CD tower.

Five minutes later she returned, paid us the asking price and took the other one. She had clearly worn down le mari.

We were left with some things we had been desperate to get rid of. You learn what sells and what doesn’t (incomplete sets of bathroom tiles, for example). But at the end we had made a tidy profit and felt it was worthwhile. The camaraderie between stallholders was also rather nice. And the spare bedroom is now clear of junk.

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, 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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12 Responses to People-Watching at the Vide-Grenier

  1. Lovely. The expats in Brussels advertise ‘garage sale’, and many local friends have asked me what the dirty garages are all about! Well done with your day!

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  2. We, or rather my husband, would have been interested in the tiles…..
    Here the expats have garage sales…and hire someone to organise it on commission, which explains the high prices!

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  3. robinnis says:

    Some interesting points – here (in Spain) only second hand goods are allowed to be sold and they only last the morning. In some areas the Guardia are very suspicious and sometimes close them down.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Interesting that they are so Draconian about it. Mind you, here you are supposed to sell only personal effects, which by definition are second hand. Although, as I said in the post, it’s difficult to classify some of the stuff on sale as personal effects.

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  4. susancarey says:

    Vide-grenier sounds so much more romantic than car boot sale! Sounds like you did well and managed to clear your grenier! Re wearing down husbands, I heard a wonderful snippet of conversation on the Albert Cuyp open-air market the other day:
    Husband: I thought we weren’t going to do any more shopping?
    Wife: But this isn’t shopping because there aren’t any shops…

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  5. Excellent, I’m very impressed at your ability to do the early rise. My stumbling block i’m afraid. They do one in our street every september. I must make a point this year. We have far too much junk!

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    • nessafrance says:

      It was painful getting up that early: I’m not an early riser by habit; it was 1.5 degrees C; and I’d got back from the Camargue the afternoon before. However, it is a good way of getting rid of junk. We vowed that anything we didn’t sell (with a few exceptions) would go to the déchetterie.

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  6. amelie88 says:

    We call these tag sales in the States and you’re allowed to hold them on your own property. I’m not sure if there is a limit to how many tag sales a year you may hold. They are usually held in the spring/summer/early fall when the weather is cooperating. I’m not sure if there are community type tag sales. My mother keeps saying she is going to organize one this summer–we do have a lot of junk we could get rid of but the problem is finding time to organize said junk! It is true though, the most interesting people come to these things and they usually don’t buy what you expect would sell!

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    • nessafrance says:

      I haven’t heard of anything similar in France, although I expect people might hold a sale at their home if, for example, they are moving house. It’s much more common for people to take a pitch at a vide-grenier. As you say, the weather has to cooperate and we were extremely lucky to have good weather on Sunday – a couple of decent days sandwiched between days of rain. We are always astonished at the unlikely items we manage to sell; the more traditional stuff is what you get left with.

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