Monday, July 18, 2011

The Art of the French Deal

Tearing through the back roads of France, I usually keep my eye out for a particular sign - not a directional sign (although those are necessary to master when you are traveling off-map) but a brocante or vide grenier sign. A brocante is an antique or second hand shop and a vide-grenier is like a garage sale - but loosely translated means a cleaning out of the attic. As soon as either one of these signs is spotted, I have been known to follow it for miles and miles and more often than not, the conversation in the car sounds something like this.....

Molly: Was that a brocante sign I just saw?
Kick: YES!
Me: Which way was the arrow pointing?
Molly, Kick or Cathy: Left or maybe right - go left!
Me: Ok, how old do you think the sign was?
Molly: New
Kick: Old
Cathy: This week for sure

After about 45 minutes....

Me: No sign of any brocante, should we turn around?
Molly: No
Kick: Yes
Cathy: Let's just go another mile or so and turn around
Me: But there is no way to turn around - we are on a 5 foot wide single lane highway
Cathy: Keep going.

An hour later....

Me: I think I see an old barn ahead.
Molly: That's it!
Kick: It looks like an abandoned house.
Cathy: Park - let's check it out.
Me: Wait - there's another brocante sign!
Cathy: Follow it!

Another 45 minutes later....

Molly: OMG! I knew it - there it is - that old garage there on the left - pull over!
Me: That's it - it's a brocante - we did it - we found it!
Kick: Is that the one we were looking for??
Cathy: It doesn't matter!

And on and on it goes - each time we all get in the car and go off on one of our brocante adventures! Once we actually get into the brocante and meet the dealer, the real adventure begins - digging through boxes and boxes of collected bits and pieces, sorting out the good, the bad and the ugly - and all the while, not letting a squeal out - which will give it all away.

Old or young, French dealers have seen almost everything there is too see and nothing really impresses them much - unless of course it is something they are extremely attached to due to family history or, as in Guy's case, (the owner of the infamous hat factory) business history. Guy is perhaps the only French dealer I have ever met who will sell you a carton of 19th century silk hat labels for a couple of euros but will not, under any circumstances, sell you the tape measure used to measure the brim of the hats....even though the tape measure can be picked up at the local sewing shop for a euro or two.

After we have scoured the brocante and made our pile, the real fun begins....negotiations can last about as long as it took to find the place! French dealers understand the system better than anyone - and almost expect a bit of haggling back and forth. Not that they wouldn't love it if you handed them the asking price, but then the game is over, and why not play just a bit longer? A French deal might sound something like this - I'll spare you my bad French and write it in English:

Me: Oh, this quilt is beautiful, how much is it?
Dealer: 100 euros
Me: Wow - that's high
Dealer: No, not really - you said it was beautiful!
Me: True, but it is still too much for me - how about 65 euros?
Dealer: What? Are you kidding - do you know how old this quilt is - and look at the little stitches and you also get the fabric on the back!!
Me: Yes, but it is only worth 65 euros to me.
Dealer: 90
Me: 70
Dealer: 85
Me: 75
Dealer: 80
(I Pause here, realizing this is a very good deal - but unable to stop the game)
Me: 76
Dealer: 79
Me: 77
Dealer: 78
Me: (realizing there is nowhere is to go) Deal!

(Heavy breathing, hand flapping at wrist and eye rolling from both myself and the dealer)

By the end of negotiations, hands are shaken all around and euros are exchanged. Hopefully everyone feels they have made a good deal and plans are made to return next year. There may even be an offer of lunch or a drink at the local cafe - in fact, one year we traveled an hour from a brocante to visit the dealer at her home for a pot of home made cassoulet and a bottle of wine...then we were taken to the overflowing basement....but that's another story.

Often, but not always, a dealer will throw in a cadeaux - a small gift - something that you may have been looking at or perhaps he just found in the back of his van - nothing to him really, but he knows it will make you happy. With dirty hands and a smile on your face, you feel as if you have mastered the art of the French deal!


Jill Chapman said...

You look like you're having so much fun. It makes me want to pop over to France and start scouring back streets! My French isn't too good though so maybe lessons first

Anonymous said...

...and a good time was had by all! That's the best. Thanks for sharing.

Susan Fuquay said...

Just reading this is so so fun because I can picture it so well! Thank you!

mogull said...

the absolute time of my life!
you tell it so well it was almost like being there.

Daisy said...

I had a similar experience last year in Brittany. The miles of 'off roading' are more often than not worth it. I couldn't stop smiling for days afterwards with my fantastic finds.
Mandy x

Judy said...

Discovering great blogs like yours that renews memories,thrills with new discoveries, is almost (almost) as satisfying as that find at a brocante.

becky up the hill said..., the best.

Carrie said...

The hilarious part is that you can read the whole course of the echange without understanding a single word. The expressions, gestures, and body language expresses it all perfectly.

There were times when you. Would have thought Guy had given birth to a specific stapler or tape measure. Too funny - and thank you for the lovely reminder.

molly said...


Curtains in My Tree said...

I would be in heaven to get to travel to france like you and so many other women and shop the back roads

Poor me

So glad you had fun. I had fun looking at the pictures

Anonymous said...

Spoken from the heart of a true hunter! Molly's thumbs up, creates the exclamation point.. XOXO, Hol