As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the folly of diverting Sweden’s labour pool to repairing bicycles instead of just letting white collar professionals buy replacements, I want to talk about the very French event called a brocante.
As the linked site says:
The flea markets, second hand markets and car boot sales are very popular in France especially in the summer and before Christmas, in fact, that’s an understatement – it seems to be the national pastime to spend weekends visiting the different types of second hand markets.
Some of these brocantes are permanent, but the ones I have seen are held periodically in each suburb perhaps once or twice per year. The local municipality closes off a few streets and sets up collapsible tables and the local residents come out with all their old junk and spend the day trying to flog it. These events are very popular and people pack the streets, but from my observation most of them are just nosing around and not buying anything. They can also be a pain: I woke up one Sunday morning in June to find a brocante going on in my street; clearly I’d not bothered reading the signs that had been posted. As such, I couldn’t get my car out of the underground car park to go anywhere. The French expression governing what to do in such a situation is “toff sheet”.
A brocante is basically the French equivalent of the British car-boot sale or jumble sale, or the American yard/lawn sale. They are also similar to the school fetes which used to go on in the 1980s when I was a kid, where parents would bring junk they wanted to sell. I have no idea if this still happens.
It might be my memory playing tricks on me, but I seem to remember the jumble sales and school fetes of my childhood turning up some bargains for my various family members. Decent books were a favourite, and I managed to snag myself a hardback second edition of The Lord of the Rings for 50p back in 1992 which I still have. But you also stood a chance of finding a good piece of furniture, some tradesmen’s tools, gardening equipment, kitchenware, sports gear, and other items which were bargains in the sense that to buy them new would cost a lot more, assuming they were available. I recall people used to get quite excited by what you could find, myself included (I was usually after piles of old Beano and Dandy comics).
By contrast, when I walked around the brocantes of Parisian suburbs I found there is little of any value and nothing that could be considered a bargain. It is mostly toys, children’s clothes, shoes (I always wondered who bought second-hand shoes; that was the one item that was not hand-me-down when I was growing up), and obsolete rubbish like CDs, VHS cassettes, and mobile phone chargers. You might find the occasional fishing rod or ski gear, but not much else. Even the books seem to be junk, very little by way of early edition hardbacks and lots of Da Vinci Code.
I think the reason for this is that a lot of stuff is so cheap now that when it breaks it is simply thrown away and replaced:, e.g. tools, kitchenware, and furniture for example whereas before this stuff could stay in a family for generations before being packed up for a jumble sale after a clear-out. Perhaps another reason is that nobody would buy items which can break, e.g. kettles, microwaves, lawnmowers, DVD players, bicycles, drills, flashlights, etc. when buying one brand new with a warranty is only marginally more expensive and people have more disposable income. There’s also the effect of eBay: there is no need to trawl through jumble sales looking for an obscure item at a bargain price when you can do that sat on your sofa with an iPad.
In short, things getting cheaper and more readily available has killed the second-hand market for many items which would have appeared in jumble and car-boot sales a generation or two ago. It’s the same reason why people are choosing to replace broken appliances and other items in Sweden rather than having people fix them. It is nice to engage in a nice spot of nostalgia about going through a jumble sale and finding a set of vintage cast-iron kitchen scales for a fiver, but the very fact such an item was being traded second-hand shows they were expensive new and not within reach of everybody. Cast-iron kitchen scales might look nice, but it is probably better that every household can now buy an electronic set for ten quid in Argos and there is no second-hand market any more. It’s called progress, and it’s a sign we are all better off.
Perhaps the Swedes ought to have taken a wander through a brocante or two before meddling with their economy.