Rural French Life: The Brocante

Who needs Fifth Avenue or Bond Street?
Who needs Fifth Avenue or Bond Street?

Twice a year, every year, my little village in the south of France holds a ‘brocante’, less romantically known in English as a ‘car boot sale’. For the sellers, it’s a chance to clear out the attic, empty a few cupboards and earn a little tax-free cash while having a sociable day out. For shoppers it’s a pleasant stroll with a lucky dip thrown in; the chance to find that unplanned for, unexpected bargain that raises the spirits and lightens the purse in equal measure.

Correction: There are in fact two distinct French terms for this sort of thing and oops, I used the wrong one and of course cannot change the title. A 'Brocante' is a more professional set up, the equivalent I suppose of an antique fair, while the every day clear-out is in fact, called a Vide Grenier, or 'empty the attic.' My apologies!

Last Sunday was the Big Day. I walked up to the village in anticipation. In the past, I’ve found lovely, framed pictures for five euros apiece, succulent plants for the garden for a euro or so, the occasional English book and Asian artefacts from a former shop-owner. One of the highlights is the cake stand provided by the retirement home, including such delights as the Tourte de Blettes , which manages to combine chard, parmesan cheese and pine-nuts with brown sugar and get away with it. So what delights would I find this time?

The church square (pictured) was abuzz. In amongst the usual display of clothing, shoes and general bric-a-brac was a more professional-looking stand selling African and Asian objets d’art , sadly at professional prices. And despite the healthy amount of books on display none were in English. (It might sound arrogant of me to expect English books in France, but in the past I’ve found hidden gems people were only too glad to get off their hands.) One enterprising lady was selling pots of jam, though at 4.50 each I thought they were a little overpriced. My first purchase was from a woman who was clearing out high quality Danish scented candles from her old shop: on reflection I should have bought more. (I dithered and missed out on the vanilla ones, much to my chagrin.) I found a DVD of the film Michael Clayton which of course I’ll be able to watch in English (hurrah!) and a cute plant pot which I’ll fill with succulents and give to a future dinner-party hostess.

Not one of my more successful outings – no sign of my plant lady and the oldies didn’t even have the Tourte de Blettes – but it was fun all the same.

Something for everyone
Something for everyone

A few years ago, I decided to have a clear-out myself, and persuaded my friend to join me in a stand, halving the 25 euro fee. I chose our location carefully – it was near the coffee and refreshment stop, and in a bright, sunny spot. I was selling high-street clothes, old handbags, costume jewellery, bits of make-up and a few pieces of never-used fitness equipment. She was selling English books and videos, children’s wear, handbags and designer clothing. The inevitable happened. I bought her black Joseph trousers while she chose one of my never-worn evening dresses. We swapped handbags and I selected a few of her books and videos. Unfortunately for her, I was possibly the only person to do so.

One old lady stormed through my jewellery collection with such gusto I began to wonder if I wasn’t accidentally selling precious heirlooms. Then she bought a baggy old fleece, just to add to my confusion. A tiny Chinese woman, bent over double through arthritis, drove an extremely hard bargain, wrestling a cardigan down from three euros to one, then cackled hysterically at her success. Younger shoppers relished my hardly-used designer lipstick mistakes, going on to buy nail polishes to match. It had been an experiment even trying to sell old make-up, but it worked. Yves St Laurent shocking pink lippie for two euros? Pourquoi pas, madame? I sold nothing for over five euros, and made about 250 in total. I was thrilled.

My friend, however, was less successful. Strangely, people shied away from her designer clothing, as if convinced that the prices would be prohibitive, and there were fewer than expected rental-home owners around who'd be interested in the books or videos for their English-speaking guests. Even her son’s old clothes, which I thought would fly off the stand, went unnoticed. We couldn’t understand it. Undaunted, she used the occasion to spend more than she made, buying lovely, high-quality presents for her boy. Not content with the sausage-in-a-baguette lunch on offer, either, she ordered a salad from the restaurant nearby and sat there, regally, a glass of rosé never far from her lips. This made everyone laugh, if nothing else, and we were for ever being told that ours was the most fun stand to visit in the village.

It was an exhausting, but terrific day out.

Every corner of the village was filled with goodies
Every corner of the village was filled with goodies

Brocantes and Vides Greniers happen at regular intervals in towns and villages all over France, and are well worth a visit. My advice for selling at a vide grenier is to keep it simple, and keep it cheap. People will buy on impulse, especially if they’re only spending a euro or two. And as for the shopper, if you see something you like, just go for it. You might never have the chance again.

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Comments 9 comments

missmaudie profile image

missmaudie 6 years ago from Brittany, France

We love visiting the vide greniers in our area, although we've never sold at one. We find though that some of the prices can be a little eye watering!

Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 6 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Missmaudie, you must have much smarter vide greniers up in Brittany than we do down here!! Thanks for commenting.

missmaudie profile image

missmaudie 6 years ago from Brittany, France

Actually a lot of it just looks like junk! But the French obviously regard their stuff as precious. Glass especially seems to be expensive.

Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

Hi Rose ... thought I'd schlep over to yours for a nosey. Glad I did ... this hub made me smile.

My old man and I often do the more prosaically named car boots over here in Cornwall. I tend to move on all the idiotic impulse buys and old ornaments (though nothing that family and friends have given me with love) ... just stuff I've enjoyed for a while and am bored with. (How capricious that makes me sound!)

Most things are sold for 50p or £1 ... maybe the odd lamp for £4 ... but we always make quite a lot of dosh and have fun at the same time. Occasionally we even manage not to buy another load of stuff back. We only do it on sunny days but oh, how I would love to do it where you live. Provence is just the one place I would love to relocate to.

Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Angie, thanks for your comment. I used to love doing car boot sales in England, it got to the point when everything I bought, I'd be thinking of the potential resale value! Now I'm pretty much clutter-free with nothing to sell...

bac2basics profile image

bac2basics 4 years ago from Spain

Hi Riviera. I too am an expat but live in Spain, so this hub caught my eye. I have done tons of car boot sales in the UK and a few here in Valencia too, though in my area they haven´t really taken off quite yet. I did try and get a friend of mine who was the mayor of the village at the time interested in setting one up but he passed it on to the people who run the markets here and you had to take out a contract and all sorts of stuff in order to sell things, not the way it goes at all., plus the town hall could´nt afford to put an ad in the local dual language paper to promote the event either so it never happened. Your village must have raked in quite a bit of money 25€ is a heck of a lot to pay for a stall, my goodness it must have cost your friend a packet all in all. Never mind, it seems you had a fun if tiring day so Viva la France to you both LOL :)

Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France Author

Hi bac2basics, thanks for your comment - what a shame you can't have car boot sales in Spain, as you point out, nothing to do with the local markets and a very nice little earner for the village!

rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

This was a fun read and I believe is fun for those who purchase goods at these clear my attic sales.

Voted up and interesting.

Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 3 years ago from South of France Author

Hi Rajan Jolly, and thanks for your comment!

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