I’m shy, but I also love a good bargain. If there’s a deal to be had at a flea market you can bet I’ll get over my stranger anxiety long enough to haggle the price. Whether you’ve just moved to France and need to find some inexpensive furniture or you’re visiting and trying to stock up the crisper drawer of your in-room hotel refrigerator, there’s always a deal to be had, you just need to know where to look.

Where to Haggle and Barter

You never want to try and negotiate a better price at the kind of place where the items are new and the prices are set, unless you want the cashier to chase you out of the store. It just isn’t done. There are, however, times when this kind of behavior is acceptable. You generally want whip out your bargaining skills if you’re buying anything used, in bulk, or you know the seller needs to get rid of their merchandise.

flea marketBuying Used

If you find yourself in the unique position of having a new home to furnish and not much money to do it with, then your best bet is to buy used furniture. Depending on the area you live in, chances are good that you can find yourself at a local flea market or brocante by asking one of your new neighbors or consulting a thorough guide book.

A few tips for bargaining at flea markets:

  • Greet the seller. Generally speaking you should do this anyway since it’s a necessary social interaction in France, but you should be doubly sure to be polite since you want this person to do you a favor.
  •  Dress down. Somehow I don’t think the shopkeeper will believe you need the deal if you go dressed in your Sunday best. Keep your look casual without seeming like a hoodlum. Remember, you want this person to like you.
  •  Keep small change on you. Saying something like “But can’t you take a little off the price I only have X amount” only works if you actually have that amount and don’t need change. Also, people are more willing to part with things if they see the money that might be theirs, so keep your opening bid in hand and add to it if you’re willing to.

Buying in Bulk

If you’re in the market for more than one of something or you and a friend find yourselves both wanting wares from the same seller, try to get a deal by leveraging your large purchase. Again, you’ll need to figure out when to play the bargain card; this isn’t appropriate at all times, get a feel for the seller first.

flea market fruit Buying at Closeout Prices

If you need produce and plan on consuming it A.S.A.P. then you might want to try heading to the open air market or farmer’s market right before closing time. Truthfully, I do this at my local farmer’s market all the time. This kind of bargaining is beneficial for both the seller and the purchaser; they want to get rid of the stock they know won’t be good enough to sell the next day (or they’re just tired and would rather sell it than pack it up), and you need enough of X fruit or vegetable to complete a dish at a reasonable price. This doesn’t always work but when it does you get a great deal.


A Few Phrases to Remember

  • “Veuillez écrire cela pour moi?” (Please write that down for me): This is a good one in case you don’t quite understand the seller’s price.
  • “Merci beaucoup, mais il est encore trop cher pour moi.” (Thank you very much, but it’s still too expensive for me): playing hard to get is all part of the game.
  • “….” (make an offer then stay silent): Usually the first one to speak loses and sometimes you may even get the seller to lower his own price with a few well-chosen silent moments.

There’s no better way to sway someone with words than to actually speak the same language. There’s also the added benefit that the seller won’t think you’re just another tourist. Make the investment in some language lessons now and reap the benefits later.