Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Le Fête Nationale or Celebration of the Sales

Today is 14th Juliet…le Fête Nationale… or as we say in English…Bastille Day. This national holiday in France celebrates the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris in 1789 and the beginning of the French revolution (or at least one of them). And with the French Revolution, came the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793. This document, following in the footsteps of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, established the natural rights of men…the end of the monarchy (or at least one of them)…and the right of self-determination.

It did not however give merchants the right to self-determine when they ought to have a sale. Unlike the United States, where the celebration of the birth of the Easter Bunny or the first spreading of manure on the farm fields of Iowa might trigger a wild 50-percent-off-everything-purple-on-the-3rd floor- of -all 5-floor department-stores, and Christmas is just another word for markdown, sales in France are regulated by law and occur only twice each year. Those dates are determined by the minister of economics and are generally universal. This practice is centuries old and is supposed to protect the smaller merchants…the mom and pops…from being crushed by the big guys. And it’s true; France continues to have hundreds of thousands of small boutiques and shops, which makes for fabulous, interesting shopping.

This year the Soldes d’hiver (winter sale) began on the 6th of January and here in my region, the Soldes d’Été (summer sale) began on July 7th. This momentous occasion is allowed to continue for 5 weeks with a total of 3 markdowns.  As you can probably guess, it’s a bit of a free-for-all, lines are long and lines are drawn in the sand. Don't expect someone to be nice and let you have the jeans you've both grabbed at exactly the same moment. Seven p.m. at any given shop looks like the Bastille must have looked like at the end of that fateful day in July 1789. And the French have perfected their strategies for getting the best deal. For instance, depending upon your size and tastes you might benefit most from beginning this sport on the first hour of the first day of the sale. However, after the 3rd markdown at the end of July…they’re nearly giving stuff away and you can bring home a haul for very little. If you’re a brand name or haute couture shopper, this is when you buy your Hermès scarf or your Chanel suit.

I obviously haven’t perfected my strategy. My feet are monster size here in France so I can probably wait until the end for shoes. But I bought a beautiful dress the first day and it was marked down…6 percent. Six percent! That’s sales tax in Wisconsin. So I bought a dress tax- free! Which I can do in Minnesota, (where there is no tax on clothing)…not just on Ground Hog’s day but any day. I obviously need more training. And please note...not one of these photos mentions one single thing about a 6% markdown!

By the time the French had given us the gift of the Statue of Liberty nearly 100 years after the storming of the Bastille, they had been through 3 revolutions, 2 restorations of the monarchy, 2 Napoleonic empires and were well into their Third Republic. Still, no Halloween sales!  I mean, how far does a country have to go to get the most basic, inalienable rights anyway?

I think they’ve just given up. C’est comme ça!  But they take out all of their frustration at sale time.

This afternoon I’m going to the military parade at 5 o’clock. That gives me a little shopping on the walk to Cours Mirabeau and another hour or so on the way home. We’re in second markdown…3rd quarter… T minus 2 and counting… and I gotta get my game on.



  1. You mean these shops are going to be open on 14th July?

  2. Yes, many of them actually were! Must be because we're in a tourist town. But I spent too much time watching the cute little hinders of the men in uniform and got no shopping in! But I feel sort of...patriotic!

  3. Delana,

    As always LOVE your writing! Informative and humorous - the best combination in my book! But what I really appreciate about this article is your historical research! WOW! You impressed me with your knowledge of French history. Of course, it could all be BS as much as I know about French history, but it read well! LOVE YOUR STYLE! I hope you continue to write and keep us smiling:)

  4. I think this is a great idea, sales only twice a year, and I do understand the reasoning in which it helps the small businesses. I would like to see this done here in the U.S. So many businesses may not begin, but many would not close.

    Thanks for this informative post.

  5. 6% off? Oh, Delana...that's just sad. Funny, but sad. :-)

    I, too, love the combination of good research and good humor. Love your blog!

  6. Vicky: My knowledge of French history is like a crib note of a brief summary of the Reader's Digest condensed version of French Modern History. But thank you for being impressed! :)

    JoAnna: The only problem with this 2 times per year thing is it's really hard to be able to say "I ONLY buy things when they're on sale"

    Jo: It is just sad, isn't it? I will spend the next 2 weeks practicing....just practicing....because that first week in August I want to say "they paid me to take it!"

  7. Delana - you are my hero! Anyone who battles the French during Les Soldes should get to march in their own parades!

  8. Thank you for providing insight into the French sales process! I knew they were only twice a year and that they were regulated, but despite my love of shopping, had never realised why they were regulated or that there were 3 markdowns!!! I have managed to avoid the sales so far this year (budget obliges) but we must be in our third markdown here in Lyon so I'll have a visit me thinks!!!

    So, I'm curious. What size are your monster size feet? I'm a French 41 and really struggle with shoes, but love picking them up so easily in the sales! It also saves me having to ask the shop assistants who always exclaim how big my feet are!

  9. Hope you found some fun treasures!


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