In some countries, having a clean-out means holding a garage sale, but the French do things a bit differently. They hold a vide grenier (empty the attic) in the centre of town, where locals can put their unwanted, pre-loved goodies on display for browsers to buy. I think this is a great idea, as I remember my parents always saying: “We should have a garage sale soon to get rid of all these things we don’t need,” but we only had one when we moved house about ten years later. Providing a date for a communal garage sale gives people a deadline to make a pile of stuff they want to sell. More importantly, browsers can check prices of popular items, such as cowbells and kids’ skis, between the different stands. Apart from those benefits, the vide grenier runs in much the same way as a garage sale: buyers turn up too early; buyers haggle for ridiculously low prices; sellers have items that are missing a price tag; sellers run low on change and demand the correct amount whenever possible from buyers; buyers leave with what they think is a bargain after all that haggling only to find that the item isn’t quite right for the needs, but it will do; and sellers dump the unsold stuff in an unused cupboard at home or the second-hand shop in defeat.
St Jean de Sixt recently held its own vide grenier, pictured below. My years of travel have prevented any build-up in unwanted items (sorry Mum, but those microwave slippers are now with my friend Lilly, although she doesn’t have a microwave at the moment either), so the most I could offer is my cat, Bruno, who is about the only excess I indulge in, and I’d never want to sell him despite the live/dead/regurgitated animals that he likes to drop in the garden or the house. With nothing to sell, I traipsed around the sellers’ tables looking for something a bit different. Some old wooden or metal things were so old that I had no idea what they were for. The escargot tray is always a popular item, leading me to think that this kitchen item is the equivalent in France of the novelty teapot elsewhere. To my utter disappointment, I found nothing, or when I did find something, I couldn’t justify the price. I suspect that most of the sellers had put their prices up expecting the haggle, but numbers like ’99’ are hard enough in French (quatre-vingt-dix-neuf, or ‘four twenty ten nine’ when translated to English). With maths involved in just identifying some of these numbers, it’s no wonder I ran away empty handed!