A couple years ago, I went to a book lecture at l’Alliance Française de Chicago about Modern French Interior Design. The author, a New York Based designer, spoke of how she often visited the various flea markets in Paris when designing client spaces. Her favorite market is Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen – aslo known as the Puces (or Fleas). This open air market is just outside the north gate of the City. You take the Metro Line 4 to Porte de Clignancourt and walk about a 5-7 minutes. Be warned, this isn’t the best neighborhood in Paris and once you get off the Metro you walk past two open air markets that sell knock-off Nikes (or “fallen off the truck Nikes”) and other sportswear plus African Art and other crap that you can get in just about any City on Earth. Walk through this area to find the true Puces.
I loved this area. We walked around the maze of shops for about two hours looking at the antique silver, beautiful furniture, furs and glassware. I had my eyes open for three things: Antique Cuff links (Christmas is coming up, you know), an antique Louis Vuitton trunk – to turn into a coffee table and a Presse de canard (Duck Press), but that didn’t stop us from looking at dozens of furniture and art shops along the way. If you are looking for beautiful antique picture frames this is where you need to go.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find any cuff links that I wanted. The Louis Vuitton trunks were either in need of more repair than I wanted to give or if they were in good order more than I wanted to pay. We did find a duck press though, but it was well used and was quite rusty. We debated the purchase, but decided that the cost of giving our dinner guests tetnus shots would outweigh the benefits of the Presse itself.
We walked away from les Puces empty handed, but we really enjoyed the experience, wandering in the beautiful weather, loving the history and the vibe of it all. While I don’t think I’ll visit the Puces each time I go to Paris it will make my frequent revisit list. Remember, there is more than one Puces in Paris – this is just the one that the author I met spoke of. Hit up Google or your hotel concierge for more info.
You can also take guided walking tours of les Puces, but I don’t know if that means you are guided to certain stalls that have an arrangement with the tour guide or of it is fully independent where the guide may be able to help you negotiate.
If you do go to Puces, be sure you haggle and haggle hard. We were given “a really good price off the marked price” on a few things that we were looking at. For example a Christofle Silver Tea Rest was marked at 175€ and when I picked it up, the guy gave me a “good discount” down to 100€. It was really cool as a gift to someone who loves tea, but honestly, it was a novelty and I would have paid 20€, no more. I’m sure it was worth more than that – maybe in Silver alone, but it wasn’t worth it to me. Remember, you are buying it, what is it worth to you? You might be getting a good deal off the marked price, but if it is still more than you initially wanted to pay, is it a good deal?
Almost everyone we ran into at the Puces spoke English – at least well enough to conduct the transactions – so don’t let your limited French language skills keep you from the Puces. If you speak perfect French, I’m sure you’ll get a better deal, but don’t let that stop you. If you aren’t good with French numbers (c’mon, it’s perfectly logical for 97 to be said as “four twenties and ten and seven, right?), bring a small calculator (or use your mobile phone’s calculator app) to display the number you want to pay, then let the vendor punch in his counter offer. I’ve done this in Italy before (when I was 17) and it worked perfectly.
Go to the Puces. Enjoy the experience. Take the Metro out there (it takes about 30 minutes from the center). Watch your wallet and camera (as you should everywhere in Paris and every City for that matter), but go. You may just find that perfect little object d’art you’ve been wanting to get your friend who watched your cat while you were in Paris!
Tell me about your experiences at les Puces. What did you get? Do you speak the language? Did you buy an antique fur to keep you warm on those chilly winter evenings?