The brocante is that unique French entity which can be either held within four walls and open daily or roving, to pop up here and there on the weekend, an overflowing chest for the treasure-seeker.
Merchandise Piled Hither
In the French countryside, the brocante is a shop which can, at times, resemble a forgotten garage full of junk. Merchandise is piled up hither and thither, with the pricier things set out alluringly in full view, destined to entrap the unwary buyer. For the experienced brocante go-er, however , the real treasures are hidden – under tables, a layer of dust, inside a cabinet whose door needs a stuff yank to get it open.
The literal definition of a brocante is “junk store” but that is far from the truth. Oh, of course, there is junk. But for every mound of unpolished medals (who knows, one may have belonged to Napoléon) or load of forlorn shoes (but wait! Aren’t those from Prada?), there are valuables, and things that might be better off at the dump. It puts truth to the saying “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
Alongside the Road in the Country
In the country the brocante is usually alongside a busily travelled road, with a sign that’s barely visible. But it’s obvious to even the least careful observer, for there will be a vintage chair or two outside the door, a few woodstoves from the 30’s, a table covered with dishes, all items that cause a squeal of the brakes, a quick turn into the drive.
Ambulatory Brocante in Paris
In Paris, the brocante story is different. Most are “ambulatory,” showing up in different arrondissement on different dates, bringing in merchants from around the country who pack up their wares in giant trucks, to unwrap them for the monied urban public. The prevailing theory is that there are no deals at a brocante in Paris (Oh la la, c’est chère! – Oh but it’s expensive!”), but I’m proof positive that there are plenty.
Temptations at brocantes are many and diverse. Here are some rules to keep you steady, and keep you from getting things you don’t need, cannot afford:
- Have a goal for what you want to get at the brocante
- Have an idea of its price
- Know what YOU are willing to pay
- Be willing to negotiate then walk away if you don’t get the price you want.
Best laid Intentions
Heed these words for as you see in the video, even the best laid intentions can go astray. I had glasses on my mind; Fiona was after plates. What did we walk away with? Linen napkins and a gorgeously useful pitcher.
But I knew the things I got fit most of the criteria above, so I was happy, the vendor was happy, the world is just a little sweeter with linen cocktail napkins and pretty pitcher.
The true point of a brocante may not be to furnish a residence, but to find a bit of history that means something to you. And one thing about vendors in France, they know what they’ve got, and they are happy to share their knowledge. So, the next time you have an opportunity, visit the brocante. You’ll love every minute of it and even if you don’t find your “bonheur” or happiness, you will have learned, had fun, and practiced your French!