Hunting in the flea markets of Paris is such fun and you can find anything from high end antique furniture to kitsch homewares. However, it can be a daunting experience, so here are my top tips for success when shopping at a marché aux puces.
1. Part of the fun is the banter when negotiating a price for something. If you don’t speak French, learn a few simple phrases before you go. Don’t be afraid of sounding ridiculous. Stallholders will appreciate your efforts even if you have only managed to say ‘bonjour’. And if they like you, they will be more inclined to give you a better price!
2. Don’t be obvious. If you spot something that you like, avoid showing the dealer your interest by picking it up or touching it straight away. Instead, pretend to browse the items next to it. Ask for the price of other items first and then casually ask about the item you are really interested in. Finally, be prepared to walk away if you really want that good deal – the chances are that the stall holder will call you back with a better price.
3. Bring plenty of cash with you (but keep it secure!). Some stallholders will only take cash, others might be prepared to drop the price a bit further for a cash payment (paiement en liquide). There are cashpoints near all the major flea markets, but there is usually a queue for them – much better to come prepared. Do be careful though, there are likely to be pickpockets about.
4. Look after yourself! Wear shoes that you know you can walk around in for a long time and stay comfortable. Stay hydrated – if you are visiting the flea markets during the summer it can be hot and thirsty work! Take plenty of breaks and if you want to know where the best cafes and brasseries are – ask the stallholders!
5. Arrive early. It might be tempting to think that turning up at the end of the day is the best way to nab a bargain, but it really isn’t true. Early visitors will have snapped up all the best stuff and you will be left with the things that nobody else wanted. Plan to get there just before opening and have a leisurely café crème whilst watching the market start up.
6. Shop light! Bring light, sturdy bags to put small purchases in. Intermarché supermarket sell lightweight, cloth bags in bright colours for about a euro and they will last for years. Before you buy something bulky, ask the stallholder if you can leave it with them and pick it up later. Have a supply of sticky labels or post it notes to hand so that it can be labelled with your name and take a photograph of it on your phone so that you can remember what it looks like. Just make sure that you know how to find the stall at the end of the day!
7. Avoid the crowds. If the main flea markets are just too large and crowded for you, try logging onto www.vide-greniers.org , a website which announces weekly street markets. Vide-greniers means ‘empty the attics’ and you will find local residents selling their unwanted goods alongside smaller scale professional dealers.
8. Have reasonable expectations and don’t think that everything will be dirt cheap. Stall holders will be willing to consider a lower price than that shown on the ticket, but they don’t necessarily have a lot of leeway. As a rule of thumb, make an offer about 30% less than the asking price. The dealer will inevitably say ‘non!’ but they will come back with a counter offer. Give it another go with your own counter offer between their lower price and your original offer. Eventually you will end up with a price you are both happy with. If you are interested in more than one item, you are likely to be able to negotiate a better deal.
9. Be polite and use a respectful tone. Avoid a rude, brusque style and never demand a particular price and stick there. Flea market traders will regard it as insulting and would rather lose the deal than sell to some one who is rude. If you are not able to arrive at a price you are willing to pay, it is politer to say that it is a good price but too much for you (C’est un bon prix, mais c’est trop cher pour moi’).
10. Ask for an itemised invoice for expensive items. These will usually describe the object in some detail. The invoice doubles as a certificate of authenticity and will come in handy should any further contact with the vendor be needed.
And as an extra bonus, tip number 11 is …….. enjoy yourself!