Protocols around negotiating are specific to the local culture. Strategies that might be effective when haggling for a Persian carpet in the souks of Cairo or Istanbul or for vintage furniture at Brimfield could prove fruitless when shopping for French antiques in the flea markets of Provence or Paris. Here are 5 tips for what works—and what doesn’t—when shopping the flea markets in France. These negotiation guidelines will come in handy whether you’re at the renowned “puces” (or fleas) in Clignancourt/Saint-Ouen and Porte de Vanves (Paris), La Foire de Chatou (just outside of Paris), L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (Provence), La Braderie de Lille, the Monday market in Nice, or elsewhere in France.
1) Set reasonable expectations. French flea market or brocante dealers are generally willing to consider a lower sum, but there isn’t tremendous leeway. My rule of thumb is to offer about 30% less than the asking price. The dealer will say “Non!” as if that’s out of the question, but then typically counter with a price which is slightly lower than their original. I give it another whirl, making an offer between their lower price and my original offer. After two or three rounds, I usually settle on 10-20% less if it’s something I really want. Both parties can feel satisfied. If you’re interested in more than one item, negotiating leverage will increase for the bundle.
2) Use a gentle approach and respectful tone. Avoid a brusque style and never demand a particular price. Flea market vendors will regard it as insulting and would rather lose the deal than cave in to demands or endure offensive behavior.
3) Inspect items before making the purchase. Minor flaws can add character, and items at flea markets are almost never in mint condition anyway. But don’t get so smitten that you forget to do your due diligence. Antique linens might be folded in such a way as to conceal stains. That armoire you’ve fallen in love with might be coated with shoe polish to cast an older look. The flaws might not dampen your interest, but courteously pointing them out might strengthen your negotiating hand.
4) Come with cash (euros). Cash offers more negotiating leverage than any other form of payment.
5) Engage with the dealer. Asking a few questions can help you learn more about an item and possibly get a sweeter deal. For example, How old is this? (“Ça date de quand?”) Where does it come from? (“Quelle est sa provenance?”) Can you please give me a better price? (“Pouvez-vous me donner un meilleur prix s’il vous plaît?”) Is that your best price? (“C’est votre meilleur prix?”) Always ask permission before taking photos. (“Puis-je prendre des photos s’il vous plait?”) Many flea market vendors object and it’s no fun to be scolded severely.
If you buy an expensive item, always ask for an itemized invoice that describes the object in some detail. The invoice doubles as a certificate of authenticity and will come in handy should any further contact with the vendor be needed.
When the deal is concluded, you can rejoice with “Je le prends!” As you prepare to leave the stall—whether or not you’ve consummated a deal—say “Merci, au revoir.” For more French flea market vocabulary tips, check out The Antiques Diva’s advice.
While I can’t guarantee that you’ll obtain what you want, these 5 guidelines will help ensure a more pleasant outing. I’ve walked away empty-handed on many occasions. When all’s said and done, I don’t remember what I didn’t get but only that I had a great time.