The French Garage Sale

I’ve been in France for a little over a month and the majority of my time has been spent hanging out with 60-year-old French people.

Why am I chilling with the over-50 jet set?  The facts are pretty clear.  I used to live on an exotic, tropical island steps away from the ocean.  I had a house staff and a swimming pool and I used to manage teams of software engineers on a complex project at an African poultry processing plant.

Now, I am jobless…living in France…staying at the Frenchman’s parents’ house…with only two suitcases worth of possessions to get me though the next few months.  I actually ironed a shirt the other day (ew).

The word of each and every day is ‘temporary’.  And when I’m sitting in the Frenchman’s bedroom staring at his odd collection of 80’s clothing, which includes some rather flashy, kelly green moon boots, and feeling a bit stuck-in-a-rut about things, this is the word I softly repeat to myself. 

It’s all only temporary (deep breath in, deep breath out) and soon I shall settle further and deeper into the French countryside; but until that happens, my container will continue to sit in storage (update:  yes, it finally made it to French shores after six weeks out at sea), my war with the French language will further rage on and I will slowly begin to dip my toes into French country culture by attending some of the local ‘hot picks’ with some rocking 60-year-olds.

One of the recent highlights was what I now refer to as the French garage sale and it was unlike any garage sale I have ever experienced.

To be honest in the description, it wasn’t in a garage and it wasn’t just one family’s collection of odds-n-ends up for sale.  It was held in the town community center and had a large collection of past treasures from many families on display.

When I think of a do-it-yourself second-hand sale, I tend to think of a quick and not really organized affair. If there are any sort of organizational attempts made, they usually involve putting all the shirts together in a pile or stuffing them all into a box marked ‘shirts’.  If the folks having the sale are really motivated, they may toss all of the shoes together into a large pile in the corner with a clumsily hand-written sign that says ‘$5 bucks a pair, you find the pair’.

But, this sale – oh – this sale was one highly organized second-hand hoe-down.  It was simply amazing and I think many of the 60 to 80 year-olds whom I met that day found my sheer delight in their efforts to be a tad bit silly.

In Minnesota at garage sales, people will often do a lot of rationalizing with themselves before slapping down $2 for a pair of pants.

The size of the pants will be inspected.  Do the pants seem as if they would fit or at least fit enough?  Those daring enough may tuck themselves behind the old standing mirror ($10 for REAL wood.  Total deal.) to quickly try on the pants in question.  Others will simply hold the pants at arm’s length distance away and then place the plants in front of their body at waist level in order to perform a flesh vs. fabric comparison.  Is there enough fabric to cover flesh? 

If the fabric to flesh ratio favors the fabric, the quality of the item will next be checked out.  By chance, there may be a small brownish stain on the bottom of the left pant leg.  Would a good soak in some OxyClean get that out?  If any noticable stains seem as if they could be somewhat easily removed or at least dulled in brightness, the pants are brought to the folding table cash register stand at the end of the driveway and $2 in change is handed over to the coffee-drinking seller.

At the French garage sale, all of the clothing was washed, freshly pressed and hung on hangers.  I was unable to find any stains, bright or dull, and the entire operation was so organized and well-coordinated that it seemed hard to believe that the event was held only twice per year. 

You didn’t need to hunt for your size because all clothing was hung and sorted by gender, type and size.  There were even separate sections for children and for babies.  And the shoes, which looked to have been recently polished, were already paired and neatly layed out on tables.

And there was no need to search for something large enough to hide behind.  There was not one, but two trying-on rooms.

But the part of the French garage sale that I loved the most was the fact that each item of clothing had a hand-written tag that was hand-sewn onto the clothing with the description, color, size, price and owner neatly marked.  There was also an elaborate system of colored dot stickers.  The stickers corresponded to invoice books which had each item up for sale hand-written on the inside.

When an item was sold, the sewn-on tags were removed and placed into neat piles that were sorted by colored dot sticker.  After the sale was finished, each tag was read through and the items that were sold were crossed off in the invoice books with perfectly straight lines.  The owners of the clothing were then paid what was owed to them with 5% held from each item to give to a local charity.

Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen that much hand-writing in such a long time or maybe it was because everyone involved in the sale seemed to be so into it, but I loved it.  I asked someone if they ever thought about using computers and printed laser stickers to make things more efficient.  The answer I received was, “tsk..tsk…oh, non.”

I guess it will be up to the next generation to make that type of change.  For the now I think part of the satisfaction comes from not only making a few Euros, but from simply executing the system with its all too familiar processes while enjoying the companionship of people you’ve known for decades.

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About Minnesota Pilgrim

A GenX Xpat who moved from Minnesota to Mauritius to France with her Frenchman lover. Multiple cultures, total bedlam, absolute bliss.
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