If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Paris between now and July 26, you just better tuck a few extra euros in your carry-on bag, as well as a passport or identity card indicating an address outside of France. Why? Because it is the season of “les soldes”! From chi-chi boutiques along Avenue Montaigne to petite souvenir shops in the Latin Quarter, store windows are decorated with large block letter signs reminding all who pass that this is the government mandated sales event that occurs twice a year, in early summer and mid-January. Even if you loathe le shopping, would never consider devoting vacation time to retail pursuits, and, like me, loathe dressing rooms, you’ve got to do at least a bit of shopping during this time, as it will be your chance to score some serious bargains, rub elbows with real Parisians, and participate in (or at least observe) the French national sport of line-cutting.
What to buy? Pretty much anything – for virtually everything is on sale, from furniture to key fobs to designer dresses; and remember, the farther you go into July the lower the prices drop. What this means is that the small sizes are scooped up right away – but remember, we’re talking European sizing, which means that many Americans will find ample selections available, since tiny French sizes would be found in the children’s department were they stateside. First you may want to hit the famous Galeries Lafayette – have lunch in the upstairs cafeteria with all of the French, notice how they have a surprising amount of dessert for the middle of the day, then take the stairs up one flight to the roof for a drop dead panoramic view of Paris. Amble down to the street level floor (the “rez de chaussee”) and give your passport/identity card to the welcome desk so you can claim your ten percent discount card. Granted the ten percent won’t apply to those famous French labels like Longchamps and Lancel, but you will be able to use them for Galeries Lafayettes scarves and store brand handbags.
Now for a secret: Galeries Lafayettes owns Monoprix, the glass front emporiums selling everything from edibles to beach toys. So you can pick up fun French fashions for a fraction of the cost of those found in GL, at the same time you pick up the ingredients for a picnic you can eat in one of Paris’s pretty parks. The Monop costume jewelry is fun and lasts forever, and the scarves and t-shirts make unique souvenirs. Don’t forget to buy yourself some Bourjois nail polish and lip gloss – this stuff comes from the same people who make Chanel, but at a fraction of the price. The make-up is of great quality and you can not chip the nail polish. I swear.
Remember, you need to see real Parisians while you’re visiting Paris, and the sales are pretty much the only place you’ll find them in en masse. Half an hour is not too much time to devote to le shopping – just enough time to pick up those souvenirs, try out your French, and discover how Parisians always manage to look as though they’ve stepped from the pages of “Vogue” magazine. What could be more French?
My favorite shopping destination in a new place is the food market – I think you can tell a lot about people by what they eat. What is your favorite spot for interacting with the locals when you travel?