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HOW TO HAVE A GOOD TIME AT "BROCANTE" (A VISIT AT "LES PUCES")

If you have been following me here for a while, you know that brocante is my life - I dream, live and breath "les puces". When did it start? Hard to tell. It may be something in the genes, maybe the love of old things, or a fascination with history, and objects that are unique and one of a kind. The love of the hunt gets me up at the wee hours on a weekend, and I can talk about it forever!




After I moved to France I quickly "sniffed out" the closest "flea" and the rest is history. Was it easy? Absolutely not. My French was basic at best (and even now, frankly, sometimes even the simplest expressions can leave me unexpectedly), and the rules of the French flea, while somewhat universal, were full of surprises.




Even for the French a visit at les puces (the flea market) can be overwhelming and intimidating. But it doesn't have to be! For me a twice weekly escapade to the flea in Lyon is a fun and exhilarating experience. (side note - at the time of publishing France is in its third confinement, meaning all flea markets are closed...)




As I said, my visits to les puces were (and still are) full of surprises. Mostly delightful! After seeing my face a few times, the vendors were starting conversations, asking questions about where I am from, and we quickly became friends and acquaintances. Flea market visits morphed into chats over many small cups of espresso, sometimes enhanced by a glass of wine (yes, in the morning!), a slice of brioche, saucisson, a fistful of garden grown strawberries...

But to the point - how to have a great visit at a French flea market? How to make a day at les puces a delightful adventure (and score something wonderful to bring home from your French vacation)?


Here are a few tips:


- Go early. Yes, I know, it may be a weekend, or your vacation, but going really early is key. Most flea markets are set up by 7 AM. Be there around 8, and you will find the place is crowded already. Sleep in, and you may be disappointed - many vendors that come in for a day may be packing already, and oftentimes the best finds are already gone...


A museum under the sky

- Wear comfortable shoes, and dress for the weather. Dress in layers. Keep in mind that you might get dirty... A hat in summer (and sunblock), hat, gloves, and scarf in winter will save you. I always bring an umbrella and a bottle of water. But - don't dress like a hobo. The European crowd can be nicely dressed even at les puces.


- Bring something to carry your purchases home. Bags, or even a wheelie if you can. Even something that seems light starts weighing down your arm after a few hours...


Ambiance at @colorhavana

- Bring cash - few vendors can take credit cards as payment, and you may get a better deal by paying cash anyway. Small bills and coins please! There is usually no ATM close by...


- Bring a French speaking friend - or at best, know key phrases (I have listed some at the bottom of the post). Knowledge of French numbers helps, a lot. Some vendors will speak a few words of English, but don't count on it. And - you will possibly have a better experience if you have someone to show you around anyway.


- Bring good manners - saying Bonjour is a must. When something interests me, I say Bonjour Monsieur/Madame before I touch the item. I smile (even now from behind the mask), I ask questions about the provenance, sometimes we chat a little before the transaction is completed. For many these encounters are not just about making a sale - it is about the overall atmosphere of les puces. Meeting like minded people. Learning about interesting objects and interesting people. Always say "merci" and "bonne journée"even if you don't purchase anything.

Soothing shades of grey... but if you are not local think twice before considering these super heavy garden ornaments!

- Leave your Rolex at home - while looking like a hobo is not encouraged, don't be flashy...


- Bring a snack, and hydrate - it's important to keep your energy up. You may not be able, or want to, sit down to a meal in the middle of an exciting expedition. The time to have a coffee and/or a meal is after... I always have breakfast and coffee before I leave for les puces, and I always bring water with me.

Delight at every corner

- Yes, you can bargain - but be reasonable. If you know what you're looking for, do your research and familiarize yourself with prices of such objects. This way you know what to expect, and whether you are getting a good deal. If something is priced at one euro, offering less is, well, cheap... non? If you buy a few items at one vendor you will usually get a better deal.


- But if you spot something you love, and the price is a little bit too high, think long and hard before you walk away. I speak from experience. I still dream of the objects that got away because I couldn't make up my mind fast enough...

Someone saw potential in this chair, it disappeared super fast!

- Just because you see it at a French brocante market, doesn't mean that its is French, or is old... I have seen many objects with an "Ikea" logo, or "made in China"... so be aware, and always turn the object over to look at the markings


- Stay focused - the flea is full of randomness. As the saying goes - "one man's trash is another's treasure". If you came for the overall experience, relax and enjoy. But if you are looking for a specific item, or items for your collection, it is easy to get distracted. Some flea markets have permanent stalls, or even boutiques, so you can do your homework beforehand, and visit just those that interest you. Otherwise skip those that don't have anything that catches your eye right away. Usually there are hundreds of exhibitors, and kilometers to cover, so focus is key!


Focus!

- Be careful - pick pockets are everywhere... Hide your money, wear a cross body bag with a zipper, don't leave your purchases unattended.


Not all flea market stands are bric a brac. Many established "les puces" have antique shops, and specialized boutiques. This one is at Puces Saint Ouen in Paris

- Lastly - be nice! Say "bonjour", "merci", "bonne journée". Smiling never hurts. People are generally super nice at les puces, and curious of the foreigners.

And have fun! I doubt you will leave empty handed.

Oh, last but not least - make sure you are able to carry your purchases home!

At @jean_marc_chineur_du_canal

Here is a bit of French flea market vocabulary that might help:


marche aux puces, les puces = flea market

brocante = another word for a flea market

un brocanteur, une brocanteuse = a flea market seller

chiner = bargain hunting

bon chine! = have a good time bargain hunting!

payer en liquide = to pay in cash

un stand = a booth

objects d'occasion = second hand goods

bric a brac = this and that, knick knacks

vide-greniers = yard sale, garage sale

braderie = a grand street fair

bon marché = cheap, low priced

"un cadeau" = literally "a gift"; in a flea market jargon, it means something priced so low that it is practically a gift

cher(e) = expensive

bon chance! = good luck!

vendu(e) = sold

Combien? = How much?

C'est combien s'il vous plait? Quel est votre prix? = How much is it? What is your price?

C'est votre meilleur prix? = Is this your best price?

Peut-on trouver une bonne affaire? = Can we strike a bargain?

C'est trop cher pour moi = it's too expensive for me

D'accord, merci! - OK, thank you!

Merci! Bonne journée Monsieur/Madame! Au revoir! = Thank you! Have a nice day! Good bye!

For me snack time comes after a good day of "le chine"!

Our favorite merchants at Les Puces Du Canal (among many many others):

@lestresorsdedadou

@maoantiques

@vialemariejo

@victors_secrets_antiques

@brocantepatriciasamoilikoff

@la_grabotte

@colorhavana

@marinebigatin

@jean_marc_chineur_du_canal

@brocante_corinne


@la_grabotte

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