French Flea Market and Yard Sale Vocabulary + Easy Story

Let’s explore the world of French antiques, yard sales and flea markets: customs, vocabulary and useful expressions. I’ll illustrate it all in the form of an easy French English bilingual story.

1 – Flea Markets and Yard Sales in France

France is famous for its markets: open-air food markets, night markets, but also flea markets mostly known by foreigners as “les marchés aux puces” (or “les puces” for short).

However, in the summertime, you will enjoy a different kind of antiques fair. Not really antiques actually, but definitely second hand! You see, in France, it’s not really customary to have a garage sale in your own yard. And I believe it’s illegal to take over the street and sell things there, even in front of your house.

So, what do French people do to get rid of their stuff?

brocante french vocabulary

2 – French Town Wide Garage Sales and Brocantes

The French towns organize a town-wide garage sale. It may be small: only about thirty booths, or super large: 200, 300 sellers. The town usually rents out booths in a public space: a street (which is then pedestrian for the day), or maybe the soccer field or communal hall.

The yard sale is announced in the newspapers, in special websites, and still very much by signs being posted all around the town.

If you want to rent a space, you pay a small fee and then, start sorting out your garage!

Some professional antiques dealers will also sell in these large French flea markets. We call them “les brocanteurs”, or “les broc”, and you can spot them rather easily: they actually sell antiques, and they know the price of their merchandise… (so it’s not as cheap).

If the yard sale is larger, and attracts many of these professional dealers, it is then called “une brocante” – or so it used to be. Now, it’s hard to tell!

antiquing in france vocabulary

3 – French Yard Sale = Un Vide-Greniers

The community yard sale is called “un vide-greniers” = literally, “empty the attic”.

And that’s exactly what you’ll find! Lot’s of junk, more or less modern: tons of baby gear: strollers, toys, clothes… but also some collectables, art,  home decors, kitchenware, sporting goods, shoes… Everything is second-hand, and… really cheap!

You are expected to discuss the prices (it’s called “marchander”) and you will get very good prices, especially at the end of the day.

Most sellers will only accept cash. For larger amounts, some may accept a check with ID (still very common in France). Take some change with you, saying you only have “this much” on you will be a good bargaining point!

I also recommend you bring a large basket or stroller. You never plan on buying anything, but you always do!!

So now, let’s study some French flea market vocabulary. First, let’s clarify a bit what we are talking about: yard sale,  flea market, antiques fair… what’s the difference?

french yard sale flea market vocabulary

4 – French Garage / Yard Sale Vocabulary

  1. Un vendeur, une vendeuse – someone who sells something
  2. Un brocanteur, une brocanteuse – a flea market professional
  3. Vendre – to sell
  4. C’est vendu – it has been sold
  5. Un acheteur, une acheteuse – someone who buys something
  6. Un client, une cliente – a client
  7. Acheter – to buy
  8. Regarder – to watch, to browse
  9. Se promener – to take a stroll
  10. Un bibelot – a small item of decoration
  11. Un meuble – a piece of furniture
  12. Discuter les prix, marchander, négocier – to discuss prices
  13. Payer en liquide – to pay cash
  14. Payer en chèque – to pay with a check
  15. Avoir la monnaie – to have some change
  16. Avoir l’appoint – to have the exact amount in cash
  17. Chiner – to look for items to buy in order to sell up
  18. Faire une bonne / mauvaise affaire – a good / bad deal
  19. Un stand – a booth
  20. Une merde, une merdouille – junk (slang)
  21. Une antiquité – an antique
  22. Un objet d’occasion – vintage, second-hand object
  23. Un jouet – a toy
  24. Un meuble – a piece of furniture
  25. Un bric à brac – a collection of eclectic things

5 – What is the Difference Between French Antiques Shop, a Flea Market and a Yard Sale?

  1. Un vide-greniers – a yard sale, a garage sale – note the S at grenier. Usually mostly regular folks selling their stuff.
  2. Une foire à tout – same thing. Literally, a fair for everything! For regular people and professionals.
  3. Un marché aux puces – most of the time an open-air market, specializing in vintage goods and antiques. Mostly professional.
  4. Un débarras – usually a very large warehouse full of… stuff! Decoration items, furniture, some electronics. Used and more or less old. Usually very cheap. And you can discuss the prices!
  5. Une brocante – usually refers to a shop or an open-air event which sells vintage furniture and some not too expensive antiques. Sometimes also used instead of “marché aux puces”.
  6. Un magasin d’antiquités – antiques shop. Usually quite expensive. Some are specialized in specific eras or kind of antics.
  7. Un bric à brac – a shop selling… everything! Vintage or new, good deals guaranteed.
  8. Un dépôt-vente – a consignment store.
  9. Une braderie – a sellout. Stores offering a huge sale city-wide.
  10. Un vide-maisons – a house, or often a several neighboring houses having a garage sale. This is rather new in France!

French people typically like antiques. And many people enjoy a vintage look for their house and their clothes.

However, nowadays you see many more people buying / selling in yard sales than you did before. With the economic crisis hitting France, garage sales offer a solution for people who are no longer able to afford new things, or a good way to make some cash with things you no longer need.

Baby items are particularly popular.

french yard sale flea market vocabulary

6 – My Personal Yard Sale Memories

When I was little, my mom used to have an antique shop in Paris.

But during the weekend, my mom and I would wake up at 5:30 AM, pack-up the car and leave. We’d drive a bit to the selected yard sale, and set up our booth quick, quick, quick, so my mom could take-off and go bargain hunting (called “chiner” in French).

During that time, I’d watch over our stuff, even do some sales when I knew the price – and with time and experience, I often did.

My mom would sell nicer items on folding tables we had brought with us. She was really “une brocanteuse”, selling antiques and valuable things.

I myself had an old Persian rug in front of me, and sold mostly vintage kitchenware, small vases and whatyamacallit…

I was responsible for pricing (an outrageous 1 to 5 Francs depending on the client’s interest: “à la tête du client”).

I sometimes even sold my drawings! Imagine a six years old calling people out:
– “come buy my drawings!
– Discover and support a new artist!”.
I was not shy…

So you see, I know about French flea markets first hand.

I still love to go, although the quality of what is being sold really went down the drain since my youth.

Still, I bought most of Leyla’s toys (ahhhh, the vintage Playmobils) on yard sales. It’s a double win: a good bargain + the time it takes your kid to carefully wash the newly acquired treasures!!

When you visit France, I encourage you to go to one of these large garage sale.

It’s a great place to practice your French, and you may even find a nice souvenir to bring home.

Now, let’s study some useful vocabulary in the form of a French English bilingual story written in easy French. Spot the yard sale related vocabulary and expressions and make sure you learn them!

french yard sale flea market vocabulary

7 – French Flea Market Bilingual Story

Camille se promène avec Leyla dans un vide-greniers. Camille aime bien dénicher de bonnes affaires, et elle adore marchander. Elle repère un panier qui l’intéresse.
Camille is taking a stroll with Leyla in a garage sale. Camille enjoys finding good deals and she loves discussing prices. She spots a wicker basket which interests her.

Camille
Bonjour Madame. Votre panier, là, il est à combien ?
Hello Madam. Your basket, there, how much is-it?

Dame
Je ne sais pas. Vous m’en donnez combien ?
I don’t know. How much would you pay for it?

Camille
Euh… Trois Euros ?
Hum… Three Euros?

Dame
Ah non. Ce n’est pas assez. Il est en très bon état. Dix Euros.
No way. It’s not enough. It’s in excellent shape. Ten Euros.

Camille
Il me plaît beaucoup, mais dix Euros, c’est trop cher.
Je vous en donne cinq. (Avec un sourire) Allez, faites-moi plaisir !
I like it a lot, but ten Euros is too expensive.
I’ll give you 5 Euros. (With a smile) C’mon, make me happy!

Dame
Bon, on coupe la poire en deux : huit Euros. Mais c’est mon dernier prix.
OK, let’s each make an effort (idiom literally meaning “let’s cut the pear in half”…) Eight Euros. But it’s my best price.

Camille
D’accord. Je le prends. J’ai dix Euros: vous avez la monnaie ?
Ok. I’ll take it. I have ten Euros: do you have the change? (watch out: “la monnaie” is change, “l’argent” is money)

Dame
Vous n’auriez pas l’appoint? Je n’ai plus de tout de monnaie…
Would you have the exact amount? I no longer have change…

Camille
Attendez, je regarde. J’ai un billet de cinq. Un, deux euros… Leyla, tu me prêtes un euro s’il te plaît ?
Wait, let me look. I have a five Euro bill. One, two euros… Leyla, could you lend me one euro please?

Leyla
Bien sûr Maman. Tiens.
Of course Mom. Here you go.

Camille
Merci ma chérie. Voilà Madame. Bonne journée, et vendez bien !
Thanks my love. Here you go Madam. Have a good day, and sell well!

Dame
Merci Madame. Au revoir.
Thank you Madam. Bye.

If you enjoy learning French in context, check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided pronunciation. 

And now let’s study more flea markets and garage sale related vocabulary.

yard sale french vocabulary

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