As someone who loves to rummage through bins of stuff at Cash Converters and community fairs, I can relate to the thrill of finding something precious for a pittance, never mind if I don’t really need it. It just might come in useful! So, I totally relate to Hwee Hwee Laurence’s love of vide greniers.
Vide greniers in French literally means ‘empty (your) attics’ and is the English equivalent of car-boot sales and the American equivalent of yard sales.
Vide greniers are held all over towns and villages of France during the late-spring and summer months. To sell your stuff, you simply pay a small fee for a stall and then lug whatever you want to get rid of there and hope that someone will find your discards the most useful and beautiful things in the world. Do not be ashamed of that pair of shoes that has gone through three owners or that spare toilet seat cover that has been sitting in your garage for years. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You’ll be surprised what is bought and sold at vide greniers.
I love vide greniers. I think it is one of the most enjoyable ways of recycling. I live with two growing kids and four changing seasons, which means that lots of clothes get quickly outgrown but barely worn. I have no time, disposition or money to trail around shops (and there aren’t many around here, anyway) to find new clothes for my children. So, the solution is to sell their old clothes at vide greniers to mothers whose children are younger than mine and buy from mothers whose children are older.
One year, when my kids have outgrown all their baby stuff, I cleared the whole attic and sold their pram, playpen, car-seat, baby bathtub, security gate, toys and clothes. It was such a pleasure to see pregnant mothers buying them eagerly at prices they could afford and knowing that the little ones in the tummies will be well-equipped when they are born. And of course, it felt good when I came home to a clean and clear attic.
Having a stall at vide greniers, especially one organized by your own village, is more than just selling things. It is a whole day-at-the-park with your friends and neighbours. We go around admiring (or buying) one another’s things; we share biscuits, sandwiches and coffee flavoured with a generous dose of gossip. And we pitch the wonderful qualities of one other’s stuff to potential clients. Children also help man the stalls, selling their old books and toys, then rushing off with their money to buy new-old toys. Being the practical type, I usually don’t have many unwanted things to sell, but my old batik or summery dresses and skirts from Singapore are always a best-seller.
In return, I buy practically everything that I (and the family) need at vide greniers. I buy all our clothes there, and although you cannot try them on, once you know the brands and their sizings, you can’t really go wrong. At first it feels a bit embarrassing to see people seeing you buying old clothes, but then everyone is so natural about it that you lose your shyness in no time, and after all, there are some very nice clothes to be found. Just be sure to check that the zippers work and that there are no tears or stains. And even if you do come back with something you cannot wear or does not totally suit your figure or colouring, there’s really very little regret when it’s only 1 or 2 Euros. And of course, you can always try to sell them at the next vide grenier!
My husband and I think that old things are better made and last longer than new things of today. He looks out for old gardening and building tools and I buy antique lamps and fixtures for the house. I have also stocked my whole kitchen and the dining buffet with things from vide greniers. Sets of cookware (my favourite are cast iron pots eg. Le Creuset), plates, cutlery, cups, glasses, teapots, serving ware – mainly branded fine porcelain but at ridiculous prices. And I love looking out for special cake-stands and dishes with pedestals.
Once, I bought a set of six green Italian drinking glasses from a vide grenier, and a few weeks later at another vide grenier, found their ‘mother’ – a serving jug in the same style and colour. That’s how exciting it can be. And I think those long-dead old ladies would be glad that someone is still cooking and serving lovingly with their crockery.
Our kids, too, buy and sell their toys and books at vide greniers. We teach them how to set a reasonable price for their things, how to give and take a little at sales, and most of all, how to consider what is worth or not worth buying and to bargain with other sellers. I think it’s a good way of teaching them how to handle money responsibly.
Have I ever bought any useless trinket that I have never used? Well, only once. It is a metal sculpture of a flower whose petals can be individually removed. Other than a table decoration, I really don’t know what it is for. My kids suggested that the petals, turned upside down, can be used as little sauce dishes. But it looked so beautiful and unusual, so what the heck – at 2 Euros, I gave in to temptation.
Each time I have visitors from overseas, if it is summer, I make sure that they spend at least one Sunday here. I search out the vide greniers in the surrounding areas, and we always spend a most exciting and satisfying time there. It easily becomes one of their most authentic French experiences as well as a highlight of their trip.
So, the next time you are in France, check out this useful website http://vide-greniers.org/ , plan your itinerary and you will surely take home some souvenirs and good memories of your French holiday.