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Paris: Know your secondhand shopping vocabulary

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Bric à brac for sale at the St-Ouen marché aux puces. Photo: MsNina
Bric à brac for sale at the St-Ouen marché aux puces. Photo: MsNina

It’s time for a French lesson in shopping.  While tourists in Paris love heading to the city’s flea markets for treasures and inexpensive gifts, they might not be aware of how many different types of flea markets there really are in the city.

Here’s a quick overview of the markets selling secondhand goods in Paris:

Marchés aux puces

At the top of the list we have the marchés aux puces, the big organized flea markets that set up shop permanently around the extremities of the city at Porte des Vanves or at St-Ouen, the largest in all of Europe.  Here you’ll find everything from cheap army surplus to vintage Chanel, so it’s not all budget shopping.

The puces are a great experience in any case, and there’s always something for someone.

Brocantes

If you’ve already been to the puces and want to try something different, look for local brocantes where antique vendors and collector bring arrays of secondhand goods to specific locations for pop-up flea markets.  They are usually organized well in advance on sites like this one.

At a brocante, you may find a treasure, you may not, but price tags are generally affordable for those patient enough to sift through the wares.  Look for them at places like the Village St-Paul, the Marché d’Aligre, or around the Square du Temple.

Vide greniers

At the bottom of the ladder are the vide greniers, the “attic sales” where locals bring their used home goods, dishware, furniture, and all sorts of odds and ends to be sold at largely negotiable prices.

Less organized than the brocantes, the vide greniers are no less a shopper’s paradise for something unique to take home.  Just scout out ones near where you’ll be staying and get up early to rummage through before everything is picked over.  They are often organized in each arrondissement and may be held in front of churches or on larger boulevards by food markets.

Braderie, bric à brac, and vintage

In the same vein as the brocantes and vide greniers, look for words like braderie, bric à brac, and vintage so that you know you’re dealing with secondhand goods.  You’ll often see markets or stalls with the word créateur in the title, denoting that local artisans are selling their goods directly, so prices are general higher, and haggling is less entertained.

No matter which type of market, you’re bound to find souvenirs more unique than another Eiffel Tower key chain!  Happy shopping!

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog: www.bryanpirolli.com.

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