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LIVING IN FRANCE

Vide grenier and brocante: The written and unwritten rules of France’s second-hand sales

From late spring to early autumn, ‘vide greniers’ are an institution in towns and villages across France - but what, exactly, are they?

Vide grenier and brocante: The written and unwritten rules of France's second-hand sales
Photo: Joel Saget / AFP

The term literally means ‘empty attic’, and it’s basically a sale event that offers anyone who goes a chance to get their hands on some serious bargains, from clothes and shoes, to toys, small electricals and heaven knows what else.

They’re usually held in public spaces such as market squares or car parks, but can be on private land such as in the gardens of the local chateau

Meanwhile, householders who have ‘emptied their attics’ can make a bit of money and clear some storage space.

As well as vide greniers, you may also see signs for brocantes, braderies and marché aux puces – these are all sales of second-hand goods, albeit with some slight distinctions (see below).

There are rules – both written and unwritten – for anyone planning to make a few euros when the next vide grenier is advertised locally. This is France, after all. 

The written rules

Private individuals can sell items they own at vide greniers, brocantes or braderies. But they are permitted to do so just two times per year.

As part of the registration process that allows you to sell items at one of these events, you must certify ‘on your honour’ that you have not taken part in more than two such sales.

READ ALSO What does it means when you declare ‘on your honour’?

Under Article L310-2 of the French Commercial Code, in order to class as a private seller, you may only sell ‘personal and used items’.

You cannot sell any new items, or anything you have created yourself without first registering as a professional under – for example – the micro-entrepreneur regime … and pay taxes and social charges as required.

Professionals can take part in vide greniers, too, but must be appropriately registered for tax and so on.

As long as you’re a private seller, you do not have to declare any money you make from a vide grenier – unless you’re selling precious metals, or you sell property for more than €5,000, excluding furniture, household appliances or cars.

Any individual who plans to organise a sale must first make an official declaration (pdf) to the local mayor. Failure to do so could result in a fine of €15,000.

The unwritten rules

Seller beware. Don’t expect to make much of an impression on seasoned French vide grenier buyers if you rock up to your pre-booked table with a few black bags of clothes you no longer want, and tip them out onto your table.

Make sure any clothes you plan to sell are clean, repaired if necessary, and ironed. Shoes should be clean and, if possible, boxed – that way you can show any dithering buyer how much you paid for them when new and why, therefore, €6 is a steal.

Lay your clothes and other items out neatly. If you have a rail you can take for shirts, do.

If you’re selling toys, make sure they’re clean and free of old food stains. If they’re boxed, so much the better.

Even so, expect shoppers to examine everything closely, noting – often out loud – any marks, knocks or other imperfections. They’re looking for perfection … and if they don’t find it, then they expect the already lower-than-new price to come tumbling down.

And if you do have anything that’s slightly the worse for wear, don’t try to hide it. Stick it in a bargain box, and offer what’s inside for a fixed price per item. Visitors will come to your stall for the well-presented items, and may leave with a few extra bargains that all add up.

Importantly, keep your stall area tidy, and your wares well laid-out no matter what the horde of visitors do; be friendly and welcoming and you could make enough to cover the cost of a summer holiday. Which is nice.

Buyers

Entry to the event is usually free, although sometimes there will be a voluntary collection for a local charity or organisation.

In terms of buying, you get what you see – there are no receipts and no returns policy, so have a good look before you buy. Most sellers prefer cash, although some of the professional operators will also take cards.

Handling items on stalls and examining them is fine, although it’s polite to say hello to the stallholder before you start rifling through their stuff.

Haggling is accepted. Unlike at most French markets or shops, you can do a bit of bargaining and ask the stallholder for a lower price, or suggest a discount if you are buying several items. It’s not quite like the high-octane bargaining at the souk, however.

Vocab

Vide grenier – literally ’empty attic’ these are second-hand sales similar to yard sales or jumble sales, so don’t expect to see priceless antiques. The size of sales varies from just a few dozen stalls in small towns to big events with several hundred stallholders.

Brocante – slightly more upmarket than vide grenier, but not as expensive as antiques. Brocantes have a variety of goods, but often include furniture, so they’re a great place to snap up a few bargains when you are furnishing your French home (although brocantes in Paris are significantly more expensive). Most brocantes are temporary sales, but the word can also be used for a shop that sells vintage or second-hand furniture, crockery, household items and clothes.

Braderie – the most famous braderie is in Lille, an annual street market that usually welcomes around 2 million visitors over the two-day sale. Plenty of smaller towns hold braderies as well though.

Marché aux puces – flea market. These are cheaper than brocantes but the items on offer are usually less good quality (although if you’re prepared to rummage then there are bargains to be found). Paris holds a large Marché aux Puces on a permanent site at Saint-Ouen on the northern edge of the city, but in smaller towns these are temporary affairs.

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EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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