Summer Postcards 2011

Purchasing Power

TOULOUSE, France—Since June 22, the only thing more ubiquitous than the signs that scream “SOLDES” populating storefronts has been the crush of shoppers flocking to them.

Les soldes (in English, “sales”) are state-regulated, biannual sales held throughout France. The government designates two, six-week periods beginning in early January and late June for nationwide sales on anything from clothes to shoes to electronics. Discounts start low at about 25 percent and can reach 80 percent in the sales’ final days.

“A lot of women will take the first day of the sales off to get to those rare or special items,” my co-workers cautioned me. “So if there’s something that you have your eye on, you might want to get it early, even though the discount won’t be that much.”

Despite my short time here, I’ve noticed that French life revolves around several staples: wine, cigarettes, coffee, bread, cheese. But with the onset of the soldes, everything changes. Employees spend time pre-shopping on the Internet at work, and small talk is initiated with, “Are you going to the sales this weekend?” In effect, a country that is usually laidback and slow-paced becomes energized and even frenzied—all eyes on the prize.

Unlike the sporadic, holiday-weekend sales in the States, the government-regulated soldes don’t fall on a major holiday or anticipate a gift-giving extravaganza. There’s no real excuse—it’s shopping without a purpose beyond purchase. It’s enjoying the things in life that matter to you, whether an espresso and a cigarette, or a sundress at half price.


I made a couple of trips to the largest shopping street in Toulouse, Rue d’Alsace-Lorraine. The street was devoid of its normal automobile traffic, and even mopeds and bikes had trouble squeezing their way through the crowds. A musician played the accordion on a street corner, and a few well-placed carts sold cold refreshments to exhausted shoppers.

I didn’t buy anything. But I’ll be back to investigate the second round of price reductions—for the sake of journalism, of course.

Joshua L. Wang ’14, a member of the business board, lives in Eliot House.