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?
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!
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?
4 – French Garage / Yard Sale Vocabulary
- Un vendeur, une vendeuse – someone who sells something
- Un brocanteur, une brocanteuse – a flea market professional
- Vendre – to sell
- C’est vendu – it has been sold
- Un acheteur, une acheteuse – someone who buys something
- Un client, une cliente – a client
- Acheter – to buy
- Regarder – to watch, to browse
- Se promener – to take a stroll
- Un bibelot – a small item of decoration
- Un meuble – a piece of furniture
- Discuter les prix, marchander, négocier – to discuss prices
- Payer en liquide – to pay cash
- Payer en chèque – to pay with a check
- Avoir la monnaie – to have some change
- Avoir l’appoint – to have the exact amount in cash
- Chiner – to look for items to buy in order to sell up
- Faire une bonne / mauvaise affaire – a good / bad deal
- Un stand – a booth
- Une merde, une merdouille – junk (slang)
- Une antiquité – an antique
- Un objet d’occasion – vintage, second-hand object
- Un jouet – a toy
- Un meuble – a piece of furniture
- 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?
- Un vide-greniers – a yard sale, a garage sale – note the S at grenier. Usually mostly regular folks selling their stuff.
- Une foire à tout – same thing. Literally, a fair for everything! For regular people and professionals.
- Un marché aux puces – most of the time an open-air market, specializing in vintage goods and antiques. Mostly professional.
- 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!
- 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”.
- Un magasin d’antiquités – antiques shop. Usually quite expensive. Some are specialized in specific eras or kind of antics.
- Un bric à brac – a shop selling… everything! Vintage or new, good deals guaranteed.
- Un dépôt-vente – a consignment store.
- Une braderie – a sellout. Stores offering a huge sale city-wide.
- 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.
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!
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.
Bonjour Madame. Votre panier, là, il est à combien ?
Hello Madam. Your basket, there, how much is-it?
Je ne sais pas. Vous m’en donnez combien ?
I don’t know. How much would you pay for it?
Euh… Trois Euros ?
Hum… Three Euros?
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.
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!
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.
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)
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…
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?
Bien sûr Maman. Tiens.
Of course Mom. Here you go.
Merci ma chérie. Voilà Madame. Bonne journée, et vendez bien !
Thanks my love. Here you go Madam. Have a good day, and sell well!
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.