Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Everything Must Go!

We are now in the third week of "les soldes": the biannual, month-long markdown that sweeps across France, turning Paris into a French-speaking version of Filene's Basement (or whatever version of chaotic discount store you're familiar with). When I first moved to Paris, I didn't understand why "les soldes" was such a big deal, why everyone went into such a frenzy in January and June, just to go shopping. It wasn't until after a couple of years of living here that I realized that there are very few sales during the rest of the year, and that any sales outside these two specified time periods actually require approval -- by the police!

Huh? Having grown up in a culture where everything is on sale, almost all the time, this seemed very strange to me. But it makes sense when you look at it in the context of tradition, as do Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, the authors of one of my favorite books about France, Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong. They explain that the rules behind "les soldes" go all the way back to merchants' guilds of the Middle Ages, when laws were made to protect tradesmen and their customers (you know, things like "bread can't contain more than 10 percent sand"). A medieval policeman called a Provost enforced these rules, which is why nowadays it is the police who oversee "les soldes", and in fact, decide the dates for them. Once again I'm awed by how even the most seemingly mundane things in France are steeped in tradition. I mean, who knew that my 25 percent marked-down underwear bought on the rue de Rivoli had such a rich history behind it?


Blogger Jill said...

Wish I was there! I never knew I wanted a turquoise-colored Buddha until I saw that picture!!

10:58 PM  
Blogger wampoline said...

you have a good eye for spotting buddhas, 'cause he's hidden behind the lettering! yes, that display window definitely tempted me, but after last year's renovation project i am almost phobic about going into any sort of housewares store...

9:10 AM  

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