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Battling for Bargains

I avoid them like the plague…the bi-annual sales that create a massive frenzy every winter and summer.

Millions of people wait with credit cards in hand to hit the sales the moment they begin — this winter they started January 11th and continue through February 21st in Paris. The official sale dates differ by department, although this winter, only one department (66 – Pyrénées-orientales) started 4 days earlier than the others and several end from 3 days to two weeks earlier. I know Americans who pay particular attention to scheduling their visits to Paris, just to take advantage of the incredible bargains.

This past Saturday, it was standing room only on rue de Rivoli, evidenced by this photo of the crowds in front of the H and M on rue de Rivoli, and one can only guess that inside, it must have been much worse!

The official government site at proclaims that by virtue of Articles L. 310-1 à L. 310-7 of the code of commerce, Decree n° 96-1097 of December 16, 1996, for the application of title III, first chapter, of the law number 96-603 of July 5, 1996, relative to clearance and liquidation sales in stores and factories. The law is meant to provide and advantage to both the merchants and consumers.

It is forbidden to use the word “solde(s)” outside of the designated two sales periods each year, each never lasting more than six weeks. These limitations guarantee the reductions to be “legal,” thereby protecting the consumer from promotional “fraud.” Articles reduced for sale must be clearly marked and visible from those not on special promotion, to comply with “truth in advertising” laws.

An exception to the rule is in the case of liquidations, which fall under a different set of guidelines and is highly regulated. Advertising and publicity must include the dates, a description of the products, the percentage of reduction and the duration of the liquidation period. In the store or place where the sale is held, each product must be clearly labeled with the original price and the sale price or price reference. Merchants not complying correctly with the laws may find themselves fined up to 15,000 euros.

The system for scheduling the sale periods by law is a foreign idea for we Americans who have a very different view of free enterprise than the French. We believe that “all is fair in love and war” — that we should be “free” to choose when, how and for how much we sell our goods. They don’t agree.

This is the French idea of “égalité” in all it’s glory, but no matter how long I live here, I can’t help but just see it as absolutely chaotic with no advantage at all for neither merchant nor consumer. As a consumer, I find it unappealing to go into battle over a savings on last season’s skirt and as a merchant, I’d be frustrated that my only opportunity to boost sales is when I can’t get an appropriate mark-up!

While the battles for bargains where taking place in the stores, Americans against the war in Iraq were demonstrating on the street with banners and signs, handing out leaflets. Unfortunately, it’s a battle they have less chance of winning than the soldiers of “les soldes.”

And while they were battling for peace, kings and queens reigned tough, battling over the “fêve” at the Parler Parlor Conversation Group Galettes des Rois party Saturday afternoon. A double congratulations goes to Robert Larrea who managed to score twice and be crowned a second time, just for indulging in a second piece of cake, a sign that he wasn’t battling the bulge!

Now…that’s a battle worth undertaking!


A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. To see photos from the Parler Parlor King Cake Party, visit


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