Junk Sales, Paris Style

Our post today is written by Liz Garrigan, whose writing has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  She is the former editor of the award-winning Nashville Scene and is now a contributing writer. Liz is also a former writer and editor for the series of city dining guides Where the Locals Eat.  You can catch up with her on her blog Liz Garrigan, Editor & Writer.



Junk Sales, Paris Style

Merchandising-ly speaking, I’ve been an utter failure since expatriating to Paris five months ago. One day on the bus, near the Champs-Elysees, I passed Hermes, Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, only to wind up home later that day with pink toilet paper—ubiquitous in the markets here, and somehow cheaper than the white stuff—and a pack of off-brand diapers. My fashionable friends were appalled.

Pink toilet paper in Paris, who knew?

Another day, desperately in search of a salve that would help heal my lips—cracked and painful from the brutal Paris winter—I came back from the pharmacy with what I was confident would relieve me. When the cream instead burned and irritated, I Googled it and learned that it’s commonly used for … jock itch. It has since moved to my husband’s side of the medicine cabinet.

Determined to make banana bread one day in my Paris Barbie kitchen, I hit the hypermarché for some flour and wound up with wheat instead of white. Who but maybe the Amish bake with wheat flour? I’ve found unwanted ham (damn jambon!) in my tartine, have purchased potting soil meant only for acid-loving plants when what I needed was “terreau universal” and bungled my boys’ European shoe sizes so badly that my 4-year-old’s school slippers make him look like Peter Pan.

There, too, was the case of my first experience at the marché, or outdoor market, during which I picked up the bananas I wanted instead of allowing the vendor to choose them for me. It is a violation (truly, a faux pas) so basic, and truly horrifying to the French, that it took me a month to recover from the stares.

When it comes to shopping, I’m more at home in a place like Hohenwald, TN, rich in used-clothing thrift stores, than in an international fashion hub like Paris. (Once, in Hohenwald, I found a very gently used, chocolate-colored Ann Taylor wool coat and haggled the $6 price tag to $4, then wore if for years, until a basement flood claimed my prized find.)

So when signs recently started going up in our neighborhood for a “vide grenier”—basically a street-long flea market where regular folks, as opposed to professional vendors, register to sell their stuff—I felt hopeful for a shot at shopping redemption.

Our family of four arrived in Paris with just six checked bags, leaving the rest of our material lives stored in the states, so stocking the household affordably is always top of mind. When we got to Avenue Versailles Sunday, there was plastic kid crap for miles, DVDs in every language imaginable, naked baby dolls, Burberry raincoats, old clock radios, dead people’s china sets and old perfume bottles—all the makings of my kind of shopping experience. Fifteen minutes in, my husband sensed that I’d become slightly crazed and purposeful—as if estate sale queen Carrington Fox had suddenly taken up residence in my body—and, like a good husband, handed me some cash and took the boys to the park.

Two hours and 43,50€ (or $61.80) later, I had a pretty impressive haul: two pairs of shoes for our 2-year-old (3€), which is especially significant given how seriously the French take children’s shoes, often priced at 70€ ($99) or more; two framed prints (6€); an abacus, because who doesn’t want their kid to become a mathematician (1€); a pair of Cacharel sandals for me (9€); C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series (3,50€); two Tunisian table-top rugs (10€), three kids’ DVDs (6€), the dearest little wooden mirror (3€) and a small green tray (2€).

Parisian Flea Market conquests

So it’s settled: I’ll stick with the vide grenier—and ChapStick.