Shopping at the mall and boutiques is fine and dandy, but there’s something special about hunting for old treasure (a treasure with a story behind it). Looking for a deal on vintage decor and apparel is half the fun, and the other half is giving something old a new life.
When my husband and I first landed in Normandy, France (where he played hockey this season), I searched for historical and natural sites to visit, and of course, places to thrift! After learning the French language basics, finding these words advertising a sale sparked immediate flutters within the thrifter in me:
- vide grenier : attic sale (AKA garage sale)
marchés aux puces* (flea market) *Puces translates to fleas.
- brocante (second-hand)
If you’re visiting France and are a fellow vintage or bargain hunter, you’ll be delighted to discover the French ‘love them a flea market‘! Years ago, a French friend of mine told me that in America, items that are 100 years old are considered “antiques,” but in France, antiques can be hundreds and hundreds of years old (due to their country’s long history)! I was ready to explore! Here’s some of my favorite sales I’ve visited during our time in France.
WEEKLY OUTDOOR MARKET (Marché)
There are outdoor food and brocante markets several days a week right in our city of Rouen, and they run year-round! You won’t likely see that happening in Minnesota in the winter (where it was -26 degrees fahrenheit recently). Sorry Minnesota, I don’t miss that weather when I leave in the winter.
During the fall, several cities and communities around the Normandy area held street sales. One we visited was in Les Andelys, and while we enjoyed walking the streets filled with vendors in this small community, we didn’t see as much brocante as we’d hoped. Instead, it was a mix of craft, second-hand and new goods wrapped around a fair in the city center.
This vide grenier locator site takes the guesswork out of locating a second-hand sale.
In the fall, I jumped from booth to booth at an impressively large outdoor vide grenier sale near downtown Rouen. There were hundreds of vendors, and nearly all of them were selling surplus items from their homes (not professional vendors). That reads deals, deals, deals!
More recently, I attended a gymnasium group garage sale, and again purchased a dozen or more items to bring home totaling under $50. Plus, trying my best to talk to the vendors in French or Frenglish is entertainment in itself (for both the vendors and me). You’ll meet locals and your purchases will have a story attached to them you can share with friends and family back home. Now, to figure out how to get the large cast iron weigh scale I purchased back home.
In my opinion, group vide greniers (or what we would call garage sales) is the best place to find a French bargain to bring home. However, if you’re looking for a particular antique item and are willing to pay a higher price for it, your best option will likely be an antique sale.
Les Puces Rouennaises is hosted twice a year, and there are rooms upon rooms of budget to upscale antiques. There is a fee to enter.
Here’s some of my favorite highlights from the show.
There’s something mysteriously odd and wonderful about mannequin parts.
We visited the fall sale on 9/11.
Who doesn’t need a circus game in their house? This girl does!
Emmaus stores would compare to the likes of Salvation Army stores back home. The Rouen location was enormous and featured donated household goods, furniture and apparel at very reasonable prices (with proceeds combatting homelessness.)
Or you can sort through retro clothing racks at the shops in Paris (and throughout France).
I bought a gorgeous red hat (can’t have enough red). There are plenty of thrift shops to keep you busy for an afternoon in Le Marais in Paris.
While thrift shopping has my heart, I do shop the new retail stores from time to time. The famous January sales throughout France sparked a shopping trip with girl friends.
ANGLAIS OU FRANCAIS (English or French)
Sometimes sellers speak English. Sometimes they don’t. You’ll find less English at the garage sales and in smaller towns, but that’s part of your story when you bring home your treasures! If you know the French numeral system, that’s a huge help. I can speak Francais un petit peu at best, but throwing out “combien” (how much), my best “sil vous plait” (please) and “merci” (thank you), and knowing the French numbers typically is enough. Once they hear you attempting to speak their language, usually sellers smile and try to help you in return (and then ask where you’re from and what’s brought you to town).
Some of my favorite finds: anything written in French, anything with a made in Normandy stamp, vintage postcards of the places we’ve traveled to.
If you’ve been to France and had a favorite antiquing, second-hand shopping or flea market experience, please do tell!