I was down on my knees scrubbing my shower on Friday morning when I heard the tiniest bell ring from my bedside. It was a text from Nico bearing the simple phrase, “Challenge accepted.” I squirmed a little, delighted he had received my invitation on time. Putting down the phone, I got back to work, but I was already ailleurs.
Every year after Christmas the French celebrate a month-long holiday dedicated to shopping. It’s called Les Soldes and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that it is as much a part of their tradition as any bona fide holiday, except that (shocking though it may be) they don’t get any time off work to celebrate it. Mind you, this fete is not to be confused with what Americans would simply call “after-Christmas sales.” Au contraire, it is one celebration in which the French out-do even the Americans in terms of extravagance. Everything — everything — is on sale, down to the shoelaces on the feet of the poor salespeople.
It’s also sort of a game, this French holiday. A gamble, I should say. During the first week of Les Soldes products are marked down between 25 and 45 percent. But every true Frenchie knows that this is not the week to buy. Oh no, this is the week to peruse the merchandise. If the whole town is up for auction, this week everyone is an appraiser, taking to the streets en masse to assign values. During Les Soldes everyone knows that only tourists would pay such exorbitant sums as 75 percent of the original price . The risk, of course, is that there will be an inundation of said pesky tourists, which means that it’s a gamble to wait for next week’s markdown. Will the beautiful double-breasted wool coat with shoulder epaulettes and faux-fur trim still be around to be marked down to 65 percent off, or will it be on it’s way to the states in the suitcase of an American woman who will brag to her friends that she got this fabulous coat at (a measly) 25 percent off? I would be willing to bet that between 75 and 90 percent of French “appraisers” would take the risk.
And this is how it goes, markdown after markdown until the stores are empty of their winter stock and there is plenty of room for all the bright new, full-priced Spring stuff.
On Saturday, Nicolas arrived bright and early to begin scouting out the best finds. I was giddy with excitement, not so much for Les Soldes but for the challenge I had sent my beau by mail two days before. On a brightly collaged homemade postcard I had proposed the invitation to
Accept this challenge, with its rules:
This Saturday, as we explore the sales, we both must find and acquire something that costs less than six euros and will have meaning to the other. We must be physically together, but the purchase must be made without the other’s knowledge. Exchange of loot at the end of the day. Good luck.
Easier said than done. By noon my giddiness had worn off and I was beginning to wonder if Nico was strategically staying glued to my side to make it harder for me to fulfill my end of the bargain. I envisioned myself pulling the old, “look! a bird!” number and grabbing whatever knick-knack sat between me and the cashier, but of course I realized that that was just ridiculous.
What to do? To be continued…tomorrow.