The Winter Sales are ON Now!

boulevard Haussmann
Straight from action centre: the boulevard Haussmann on Friday.

An Underwhelming Mini-Shopping Tour

Paris:- Friday, 2. January 1998:- As yesterday was the public holiday known 'Le Jour de l'An' everybody stayed home except for all the people who took off for Dakar.

The stay-behinds remembered the past and reflected on the future. According to my calendar, yesterday was also the first day of this year, leaving only 364 remaining shopping days.

These facts have not quite prepared me for the scene on Sales - Printemps the boulevard Haussmann as I come out of the métro Harve-Caumartin, right underneath Printemps' yellow 'Soldes' signs flapping in the wind.

If everybody was going 'chapon-crazy' last week, this week everybody and their brothers, aunts, mothers-in-law, cousins and distant relatives from even more distant provinces, are here on this sidewalk and overflowing into the street; right now.

Being in the street itself is not dangerous, because motorists are stalled in large clots at the entrances to full underground parking garages - the 'complet' signs in red neon blink steadily. There is some horn-blowing, but it Sales - C&A is half-hearted, as if the drivers know they should have started out before dawn instead of having a leisurely breakfast of leftover chapon.

Some people have crazed hunger in their eyes and others already have bulky shopping bags and parcels, and there is a fair amount of accidental bumping as pedestrians look beyond the immediate, towards their next half-price destination.

By the 'Grands Magazins,' the boulevard Haussmann is full. Armies of shoppers burst across the wide street, paying little attention to the 'green man.' Most of the Christmas displays are still on show, with the 'soldes' signs plastered across the windows. No short people are looking at them though.

The mood is, 'this is day one of fifty-percent' off,' the day when the selection is greatest - the day when you can get exactly what you want, for about what you want to pay for it. Experienced Parisian shoppers know there are only two days a year like this - the other being on the first morning of the summer sales, six months from now.

These are true sales, and there are official inspectors going around - how many? - to make sure the game is straight. The only goods allowed to be marked 'on sale' are goods that were already in the shop - no 'special' goods can be put on the shelves just for the sales. The dates of the 'sales' are fixed by law; and may vary from one locality to another - some won't be starting for another week.

All items 'on sale' have to carry their original price stickers in addition to the sale-price sticker. The sales are final; there are warning signs saying 'no refunds, no exchanges,' so a lot more people than normal are trying stuff on - which creates even more congestion.

Down the block, to the rear of the Opéra, there is a Galeries Lafayette crew with a goose-neck, beginning to dismantle one of their two outside trees, up on the awning.

This is kind of blocking the cars coming four abreast out of the rue Mogador and there is a huge jam in it. The 'green man' comes window, sales: La Perla on and 500 people cross the street, weaving between the stalled traffic while it gets the green light, but cannot move. If it could, then it would be immediately stalled again because a 1,000 are crossing Haussmann; and besides, there are twenty cars backed into the intersection - waiting to get into a full garage.

I hear police whistles but I don't see any. I can see at least 20 traffic infractions - about 15 more than normal - but think maybe the police have given up or declared this a flat-out free 'shopper-zone' and not subject to normal rules - which are never overbearing in any case.

Before getting here I had thought I might go in to one of the stores to see if there were actual fights going on. But just getting down the block is like an army training course in jungle warfare so I decide to wander a bit.

Tati, in the rue de la Paix, does not have any gold 'on sale' today because it is closed for inventory. Other shops in the same street have window: Cartier lines of customers waiting to get into them. In the boulevard des Capucines, and further on down towards Madeleine, there are a number of shops closed - counting stocks also.

'My' shop is like this so I do not get new-years' retreads. If I don't get back here early next week, their next sale will be in late July and by then I will be barefoot. Other people have the same idea; they are peering in the window.

Some people, around these high-rent shops, are obviously successful and they are carrying big big-name bags. The difference between me and the semi-rich is they shop enough to know who's open today.

There are still a lot of people about. In the rue Royal there are crowds two-deep gazing in the windows of Rolex boutiques. Across the street there is a big line waiting to get into the shop on the corner of the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

In the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré there are decorations overhead but there are not really too many people on the sidewalk. Right in front of one of Lanvin's shops, there is a lady begging, with her nose and hand practically on the pavement.

Two cops on scooters stop to ask her - what? - as I go past to look at Karl Lagerfeld's joint and the other ritzy little shops along here. I see one is open, but its door is locked. When a Japanese lady tries to get in as a customer is let out, she is refused entry.

I think some shops pre-announce their 'sales' to Sales - Old England their customer lists, and only these regulars can shop on the first couple of days of the 'sales.' I used to get invitations like these - to USA-Jeans and other really classy places. I think I'm off everybody's lists now, except for the ones selling fitted kitchens out at Orgeval.

This 'by invitation only' could explain the lack of sidewalk circulation. I don't think the begging lady picked a good location, but when I go back that way, she is still there. The cops let her be, although the sidewalk is not wide and you nearly have to step over her hand to get by.

I go down the street there towards Concorde and cut through one of the up-scale passages to the rue Royal. In the passage, nothing seems to be 'on sale.' It is stuff so fancy that only very rich people get it as gifts for other very rich people, and since Christmas is over I guess they've already got what they thought they needed.

The sun is shining against me through Maxim's café and there are some people in it; waiting for whoever they are waiting for. The place de la Concorde is full of low winter sun and the Obélisque is throwing a long, pointy shadow.

I pass up the first métro entry and go past the Navy building to get to the one I think may be closer to my line. Nope. Underground, I feel that I am walking back the way I came. The train comes and it is very full. After a few stops I get a seat and take out Le Parisien to see the news about the things I should have been looking for today.

When I next look out the window, the station sign says Bastille. I leap off the train and trudge around through tunnels to get to the opposite platform. I have ridden all across downtown in the wrong direction.

At La Défense, the mini-lab is shutting down and I can't get the film done. It is Friday, 2. January and the new year is supposed window, sales: YSL to have started. In fact, it should have been a 'bridge' and we all could have started next Monday - without 'invitations' and without locked doors; closed for inventory or whatever.

Besides not having any ready cash, I have my doubts about these semi-annual 'sales.' I have plugged them in the past, but I think there is a better answer and it is available all-year round.

Watch coming issues of Metropole, for when we go shopping with 'cash.' I say, 'we' because I am going to have some expert helpers.

If you've bought something in this year's sales, I hope you got at least 50 percent off and I hope it fits.

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