There are a number of sources available in seeking out French finds. Like many things in France, there are different terms with subtle differences (some I have yet to figure out!) which will help you determine what to expect with a visit.
Marchés aux puces, Brocantes, Antiquités, Vide Greniers, Trocantes. All are places to visit when looking for used French items. How old and how used can some times be predicted by the names.
Antiquités indicates shops which should house at least SOME veritable antiques. Not the American version of antique (greater than 50 years), but true antiques dating back a ways in French history. Brocantes are permanent shops selling a mish-mash of decorative items, old and used … but the age can vary greatly.
Marchés aux puces are flea markets, typically reoccuring in the same location, like other marches for food, etc. An example can be found at the Porte de Clignancourt in Paris.
Trocantes are second hand stores that offer not only décor items, but other useful things like used stereo systems, garden equipment, etc.
Lastly, I mentioned Vide Greniers. A vide grenier is the equivalent of a British car boot sale or an American flea market. The term Vide Grenier means attic clearance. Vide Greniers move about and every village of a decent size usually hosts at least one per year. The event attracts stall or space holders from the region only. Just like in the states, the sellers are a mix of those who do this for a living and who have intimate knowledge of their goods … on down to village folks who really are just clearing out the attic (from these sellers you just might score a bargain.
The village usually also hosts refreshment stands during the event … a chance to earn a little extra money for the city coffers as well as for attendees to sample local fare.
When a village hosts a brocante, the stalls are found in the main plaza and can also stretch throughout side streets, etc. You will find everything from children sitting on blankets selling their own toys to bric a brac, antiques and collectables dealers selling their wares and of course any amateur who wants to set up a stand.Vide-greniers.org is a site that tells you where the brocante fairs and vide-grenier sales are happening in the Dordogne.
The French call antique-hunters "chineurs". "Chiner" means to hunt for antiques. Brocante fairs began as a means to offer itinerant traders the opportunity to open up stalls where the local people would see things they couldn't find nearby.
That's the way things still are in the Dordogne. The traders at antiques fairs may have travelled a long way, and will often not have a shop of their own. With a bit of luck Dordogne-dwellers will have a range of choice far greater than normal.
Be aware that the person selling to you may not be particularly concerned if you're not happy with the result. He'll be miles away by the time you've decided you want your money back. So you need to be careful.
Hints for being a successful "chineur"
If you want to buy something, get to fairs as early as you can. The best items will have gone by eleven o'clock.
Don't be in too much of a rush. Try to have either a budget or an idea of market value by having looked at similar items. Don't spend more than you feel is fair.
Haggle, haggle, HAGGLE!. In France the initial discount proposed is more of a token. Hang in there and don’t be intimidated!
Don’t be frightened of walking away if either on closer examination the item's not what you want, or the price is seriously more than you want to pay.
Some language tips
Of course there's always the language issue. Again, here are some tips:
- just as in shops, start off with the obligatory "Bonjour" - this is no more than a way of opening proceedings, but it'll seem rude if you go straight in with your questions.
- "c'est combien?", pointing at the relevant piece, will get you the price. If you don't understand French numbers, ask the dealer to write it down.
- "de l'époque" means "period" - a vague term, meaning the item isn't reproduction. However, the precise period may be uncertain - particuly since country cabinet-makers continued making furniture in the old styles for decades after the relevant period.
- "votre meilleur prix" means "your best price" - i.e. the best price that the dealer can offer.
- "c'est trop cher" means "it's too expensive", and just might provoke a loud protest, or a shrug of the shoulders.
- "j'y réfléchirai" or "je vais y réfléchir" means "I'll think about it".
- "je reviendrai tout à l'heure" means "I'll come back shortly".
Some of these tips may be useful on your next jaunt to the French countryside. Of course, if you don’t have a trip planned soon, don’t despair!!
Keep your sights on Je Suis Mignonne or stop by the store for regular visits. I’m out there doing a lot of the hard work for our customers so they can enjoy some of those beautiful French treasures that just can’t be found locally in the States. We are committed to bringing you unusual glassware, décor and collectible items at fair prices to enhance your home.