Hayley Flurer – a brocante afficianado and a lady with a great eye for vintage French accessories and jewellery tells us how she discovered brocantes, vide greniers and braderies – the second hand markets that are held all over France and are a national passion for the French – when she moved from South Africa to Strasbourg in the Alsace region in 2009.
Although Hayley wasn’t a fluent French speaker at that time she found that wasn’t a prerequisite for seeking out and buying great pieces and going to the diverse markets helped her to understand the people, the language and the culture. She now runs two online shops through Etsy – Hope and Vanilla and The Hope Tree - where she sells the wonderful French pieces she finds.
Here, Hayley tells us what it is that she loves about the second hand markets. If you want to find a market near you, the French website brocabrac.fr has lots of details – just type in your region id and it will bring up what’s on, address details and how many exhibitors there will be.
I have found a new passion. You will find me at a ‘vide grenier’ in a different small town every weekend. It’s the thrill of finding something special that keeps me there for hours.
Vide greniers (literally “empty lofts”) or Marche aux puces (flea markets) as they call it here, are markets where people sell the second hand items they have no use for anymore. When the sun is out, the villages come alive with rows of tables on the streets. Each table is normally filled with odds and ends, once loved items that need a new home.
I have to say, most of it is seen as ‘rubbish’…not worth much but you never know what treasures are hiding in between. Treasures that appeal to many kinds of people and you find many different types of people roaming the markets. The neighbors from the villages, chatting in front of the tables so you can’t see anything, the bargain hunters who don’t miss a trick and of course the antiques dealers who walk quickly but have an eagle eye.
The atmosphere is always great, even when it’s cold. Here in Alsace, north East of France, it is often cold but people still come to the markets. You can smell the coffee stand which always has beer and large pretzels for sale. Sometimes there are so many people that I struggle to squeeze myself and my faithful old trolley through the crowds. You can hear people bargaining over clothes, shoes and kitchen items, many of them so very French.
There is another group of sellers at these markets, they are semi professional antique dealers. Generally they make their rounds at old people’s houses and see what they can buy from them… then they sell their items at the markets. Their prices are higher than the general market seller but these stalls are often where the reall treasures are found. You can tell them from a distance, the old furniture pieces spread out on display. My tummy makes turns when I see a seller like this and I am hardly ever disappointed. Sometimes the price is too high but their items are a joy to look at. Often they have boxes of stuff that you have to dig through, hoping to find a fantastic piece. [Hayley’s advice is to haggle if you think the price is too high, offer a little less than you’re willing to pay and then come up to your required price and be prepared to walk away if the seller doesn’t meet your price].
I really love spending my weekends wondering around these markets, finding treasures and junk. It’s as if I am learning about France and its history through the objects I find. When I get home and unpack my faithful trolley, it is so rewarding to look at all the French items I have found.
I am definitely discovering France through ‘antique glasses’.