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The Insider's Guide to Buying at French Flea Markets
The French invented the flea market and there is nothing more enjoyable than hunting down treasures in their quaint old street markets. Although the flea markets of Paris such as Clignancourt may be the best known, the provinces take some beating for quality, variety and value for money. For example in the Languedoc region of Southern France where I have made my home, we are lucky to have some of the best in the country. There are around 250 marches aux puces, brocantes and vide greniers running every week in the beautiful towns and villages across the region. Wonderful antiques, collectables and vintage items can be found at a fraction of the prices of the Paris flea markets and with a little insider knowledge you can snap up your own piece of French chic for a song. Here is the insider’s guide for the flea market bargain hunter or chineur.
1. Do your research- Decide which markets you are aiming to do and make a note of exactly where in the town they are being held. Some can be surprisingly tricky to locate. Check out the websites such as www.vide-grenier.org for the full listings in your area and keep an eye out for posters for those ad hoc vide greniers which the organisers don’t get round to listing on the websites. Create a schedule of the markets you want to do and plan your route using sat nav if you're unfamiliar with the area.
2. Get there early-This is what separates the serious chineurs from the amateurs. I have friends who tell me they can never find anything good at flea markets- that’s because they don’t get there until 10am! The best bargains will have long gone by 8.30am so be on the road by 6.30am and aim to get to the markets an hour before the advertised start time in order to have the pick of the crop as the stall holders set up.
3. Be prepared- Make sure that you have plenty of loose change and low denomination notes. Most stallholders won’t have bothered taking any change with them so having the right money can often make the difference between winning and losing. There is little more galling than seeing your treasure go to someone else because the dealer can’t change your 50€ note.
4. Use the tools of the trade- Ensure you have several strong shopping bags or even a trolley for the larger markets, stallholders will not usually provide bags. Walking round with armfuls of bargains is a sure recipe for breaking something and will put you at a disadvantage when trying to pounce on next bargain. Also indispensable for those early morning forays is a torch, particularly during the winter months. If your interest is jewellery or silver, a magnifying glass or jeweller’s loupe is invaluable for identifying those all-important hallmarks. A tape measure will ensure you don't buy anything that you can't get into the car or the house! These simple but essential tools can often give you a competitive advantage.
5. Be tactical in your approach- Rather than slavishly go through every stall from the start, do a quick ‘recce’ around the whole of the market checking out the lay of the land and identifying any stalls which match your particular interest. During this first tour you may well spot some obvious and unmissable bargains to snap up but having given it the once-over you will know where to focus on during your second and third tours. By the time you’ve done a couple more circuits you can adopt a more slow and systematic approach pausing to root through all those cardboard boxes looking for bits and pieces which others can’t be bothered to bend down for.
6. Don’t dither- You need to be decisive. You probably won’t get a second chance so make your mind up whether or not you really want it and start to haggle. Thinking you’ll get it next time round invariably leads to disappointment. If it’s a real bargain, it’ll be gone when you get back and you’ll spend the rest of the day kicking yourself.
7. Don’t assume-Ask- It is very unusual for items to be priced at a flea market. Don’t assume the price will be out of your reach- ask and you’ll often be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes the price varies depending how affluent you look, so dress down!
8. Haggle respectfully- Haggling is part of the fun. The first price quoted is invariably higher than they actually hope to get, but there is a subtle difference between haggling and exploitation- the stall holder has a living to make too. Use some of the phrases in the guide below to gauge just how much wriggle room you’ve got, and once you’ve got them to their lowest price don’t be afraid to try another offer. If done with the right attitude and a friendly smile this will not cause offence and might just work. The same cannot be said if you try to rubbish their stock as a tactic to drive the price down. This may rightly lead to a flea in the ear! Occasionally if you reach an impasse, a lighthearted way of breaking the log-jamb is to invite the stall holder to toss a coin. Heads you pay their price, tails you pay yours!
9. Flash the Cash- Don’t underestimate the impact of waving the readies under the nose of the stallholder. It might just tip the balance especially if the stallholder isn’t having a great day. Go for bundle deals for double discount. Once you’ve negotiated a price for one item, hang onto it with a facial expression which suggests you haven’t made up your mind, and check out the stall for anything else that takes your fancy. Then haggle on the bundle and get a bit more off for buying several items.
10. Last Minute Offers- Revisiting a market as they are packing up can often be the time to snap up a real bargain and make a cheeky offer. Although much of the good stuff may have gone, this is the time to haggle hard on those items which the stallholder over-priced at the start of the day and is now regretting. You will be surprised how cheaply they will let stuff go rather than take it back home again.
The Essential Phrasebook for the Flea Market Bargain Hunter
How much is it?/ How much are you asking?
C’est combien?/ Combien vous demandez?
How old is it?
Quel âge a-t-il ?
Is it a reproduction?
Est-il un faux?
Where is it from?
C’est d’où ?
Is it a genuine period piece?
C’est véritable d’époque?
What is your best price?
Quel est votre dernier prix?
Can I make you an offer?
Puis je faire une proposition?
Can you drop the price a little?
Pouvez vous baissez le prix un peu?
How much for the lot?
C’est combien pour le lot?
It is too expensive
C’est trop cher
Why so expensive?
Pourquoi si cher ?
Shame its damaged?
C’est dommage c’est cassé
It is missing something?
Est ce qu’il manque quelque chose?
There is one cheaper over there
Il y a un moins cher là-bas
That’s a bargain
C’est une bonne affaire
Can you wrap it please?
Pouvez-vous emballer s'il vous plaît?
Can you deliver it to....?
Pouvez vous livrer a….?
I’ll take it
Je le prends
I’ll think about it
I’ll have a little look round first.
Je fait un petit tour d’abord
Can you look after it for a few minutes?
Pouvez vous le garder pendent quelques instants?
Heads or Tails?
Pile ou face?