Les Soldes - Sales In Paris and France
No time for the January blues to set in once the end-of-year holiday festivities have drawn to a close. In Paris, the sales season known simply as "les soldes" will be inaugurated on January 10 and you can be sure eager shoppers will be lined up in the Paris drizzle waiting to rush their favorite department store. What makes this French version of the after-Christmas sale so special? For one thing, sale events in France don't crop up at each holiday occasion, but instead get concentrated into a month in winter ("soldes d'hiver") and the better part of the month of July ("soldes d'été"). While some stores will run promotions at other times of the year, the word sale is not allowed into the French retail lexicon outside of these two defined periods, under threat of fine from governmental authorities. Most UK and US visitors shake their head in disbelief at the thought that Big Brother is meddling in everyday mercantile exchanges for items that remain in the realm of garments and household appliances. Yet, a State agency, with a name that goes something like General Directorate for Fair Trading, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control, is empowered to monitor that all shopkeepers and retailers strictly abide by these measures and it's up to the local prefects to decide on which date the sales must cease and how deep the discount can actually be, whether 30, 40 or 50% off. So much for the free market… You may think that all these shopping rules and regulations are in place out of a genuine, although overly-authoritarian, concern to protect the consumer, yet in reality France's read on consumerism is to make sure that luring customers does not breed disloyal competition to the detriment of smaller boutiques and shops. This governmental protection of the retailer goes hand in hand with legislation designed to safeguard small independent manufacturers and agricultural producers, both of whom provide a tremendous source of France's economic prestige. So some advice to American visitors is to stop shaking your head, embrace this everlasting French tradition and treat yourselves to the experience of "les grands magasins"…
A tour naturally starts with the boulevard Haussmann near the original Paris Opera House, where Les Galeries Lafayette with its chic Art Nouveau interior and two short blocks away Le Printemps reign with enough fashion for all budgets to rival Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Saks, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom's combined with a European flair all their own. Closer to the Seine, another Paris institution La Samaritaine offers shoppers a handsome late 19th-century setting to pick up something elegant and why not enjoy a snack or coffee from the store's rooftop terrace and take in one of the city's best views (be advised store renovation works are still underway). Rounding out the list of places where true Parisians shop would be the granddaddy of them all Le Bon Marché, the left bank's only major department store and renowned in addition to its apparel and decoration for a sumptuous food court. And then how could one pass up come sales time the occasion to stroll the world's most beautiful avenue, les Champs-Elysées, just a couple metro stops away.
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