P1080406France doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but le Black Friday is gaining popularity, right behind Halloween.

It’s nowhere near as crazy as in the U.S. For one thing, France has soldes–sales–twice a year, starting in mid-January and mid-July, and they last for six weeks, with bigger markdowns (and less choice) as time goes on.

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The “soldes” signs, in case you’re under a rock and not aware that the entire country is consumed by biannual discounts.

The French are pros at faire le pont—taking a bridge day between a mid-week holiday and the weekend—but with no Thanksgiving, the Friday after is just another workday.

France doesn’t have many malls of the Mall of America, “Clueless,” senior-speed-walker genre. The centres commercials usually are anchored by supermarkets, there usually are no food courts and they’re just much smaller.  I will admit it can be efficient to hit 20 stores without setting foot outside when you have a deadline to find something AND it’s 20 below zero. Happily, the weather here is not as brutal so I don’t miss the lack of malls at all.

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This is not a mall. It is a charming courtyard in downtown Toulouse. The pleasures of strolling the streets.

At the end of the summer soldes, my shopping buddy and I did the rounds in Toulouse. I was limited to leche-vitrine (window-licking, which is the wonderful French term for window shopping), but I got vicarious thrills by her spending. We strolled around the center, where many of the streets have been closed to traffic, except for bikes, which are now ubiquitous, and (parked) food carts. I love strolling in Toulouse. It’s a big city but not in a dangerous, pushy way, except on the périphérique. It’s mostly clean, with beautiful architecture, interesting boutiques, lovely little parks and squares, and a fun sprinkling of eccentrics to make hicksters smile. Don’t you want to go into a shop that has flying bare-breasted women nibbling on grapes over the entrance (see the top photo)?

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Some more Toulouse love: Those shutters! Those railings! Those bricks!
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Three–count ’em, THREE–lions. You don’t get that at the mall. The fountain (la fontaine Boulbonne) is an allegory representing the Garonne river offering electrical power to the city. Allegories are also in short supply at the mall.
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Some traditional architecture. See below.

Despite our best efforts to cover the entire downtown, a couple of items on the list hadn’t been found, at least not in the desired fit. On the way home, I asked whether she wanted to check out the factory outlet center in Nailloux. Why not, she said.

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Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in France anymore. No, Dorothy, this isn’t Kansas. It IS France!

It was a real mind trip. I had a similar experience going to the French-owned American-style Italian restaurant chain. I thought I was in the Midwest. We drove up a hill with waving fields of wheat on either side of the divided highway. At the top of the hill, we turned toward the flapping flags, and came upon a wonder of an American-style “outdoor” mall, designed to look like an old-fashioned main street rather than the dolled-up strip mall such things really are. They have none of the climatic convenience of a real mall and none of the charm of a real downtown. A few, like Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, are pretty enough, but a little sterile, with no real link to the surrounding city.

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Parking for a billion people? Check.

Anyway, Nailloux Outlet Village is one of them. Vaguely Spanish/Mediterranean/medieval (fake half-timbered) architecture. Music piped to its sterile sidewalks. Oceans of parking. Familiar brands: Levi’s, Nike, Samsonite…Also many French names: Little Marcel, Princesse TamTam, Comptoire des Cotonniers, Gérard Darel….and more.

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FAKE half-timbered buildings. And pseudo-Spanish something.

My buddy scored jeans that fit and some running shoes. We had ice cream in the “plaza.” I had a hard time speaking French and an urge to call up one of my friends back home to come on over and meet us. Le Temps des Cerises aside, it felt like an island of America.

These outlet villages are all over France. Here’s a link to a list. For all my complaining about the architecture, there are bargains to be had.

And there’s even an outlet village not far away, in Spain, north of Barcelona: La Roca Village.

Haven’t been there yet. Going from France to Spain and thinking I’m in America might make my head explode.

19 thoughts on “Le Shopping Outlet

  1. Malls are exploding where I live in the South of France. The new “Polygone” in Vence is an open air concept aimed at the lower end and they even have a Primark! The Cap3000 near Nice has just doubled the number of stores and gone really high end and attracts people for a day out shopping by being in close proximity to the beach and port with over 50 excellent small restaurants. We’ve always traveled to the “outlets” in Italy where they have provided access to hundreds of brands at outlet prices for over 20 years. (I believe these outlets are owned by American companies.)

    I’ve also noticed that the sales and promotions have expanded as well. Now there are pre-holiday markdowns and discount promotions before the holidays in November. This was unheard of 15 years ago. As you mentioned the French have embraced the “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” sales promotion tradition even though there is no Thanksgiving holiday. Again, another way to drive sales before the holidays that never happened previously. I’ve also noticed that the annual sales have deeper discounts than previously. 10 years ago getting a 20% discount was considered a big deal but now you see up to 70% in the Galleries Lafayette. I suppose the completion with the internet sellers is cutting into everyone’s sales margins, which is a shame as access to cheaper goods often means fewer jobs locally.

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    1. Wow. The malls around Toulouse and Montpellier are like those in Carcassonne, but bigger. A few chain stores and a supermarket. And you’re right about more discounts all the time.

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  2. We’re pretty spoiled for shops here from unique boutiques through the standard French brands you mention to globally recognized fair like Zara, Mango, French Connection, H&M et al and I must admit that it provides everything I could possibly want or not want in a compact and easily navigable city – if I want to push the boat out I can hop a tram to la Grande Place and find even more in a Mall-like setting. In England, for a while I worked for the CEO of what used to be Value Retail and is now called Chic Outlet Shopping. American owned, they brought the upmarket villages like La Roca in Barcelone to Europe. It was an eye-opener working for them … the ruthless attention to detail and almost clinical approach to who and how the highest of high-end brands are welcomed or dispatched if not performing was in once sense educational and in another depressing. As for Black Friday – I am told it is actually waning in interest here which is music to me if true. And your bare-breasted grape nibbling ladies …. wondrous and would entice me in on their own but the British amongst your readership will understand my childish giggles that the neon sign underneath triumphantly declares itself ‘Mank’ 😉

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    1. I don’t get the brand outlets myself. The costume designer for “Network” now at the National Theatre, says of clothing Michelle Dockery’s powerful character: “most of the people I have met who are very important and powerful don’t show labels.”

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  3. Thankfully there is so much to see, do and eat in France that it doesn’t rely on shopping to attract tourists — if so I fear the country would need a new business plan. Never been to an outlet mall here so I can’t really say how good the deals are but destination shopping is really not my thing. As for ‘les soldes’ — I never get anything on sale in France. In my experience, the deep discounted stuff is junk I don’t want, while the things I do want are never on sale. Maybe it’s me and bad shopping karma but I’d rather get exactly what I want even if it means paying full price. Thanks for sharing the addresses though!

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    1. Shopping as the only thing is rather empty. However, we whiled a couple of hours wandering about Toulouse today (again!) and it was lovely. Everybody else was shopping and we just delighted in the architecture and people-watching (and appreciated the very clever window displays). And I do mean “delight.”

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  4. Last weekend my girlfriend and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch of roasted brussels sprouts and kale salad. I admired her beautiful Brunelli Cucinelli sweater, on her petite frame. We had just been to the most charming of Christmas markets, organized by a dear friend, at a beautiful rural old farmstead. After a satisfying day, we returned to the City, home to some of the world’s most influential architecture, shopping on the Magnificent Mile, and a vast and beautiful Lake. Chicago. Midwest. Sophisticated. Smart.

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    1. Really??? I haven’t been to the supermarket lately. In the past, we had to order long in advance to get a turkey. This year we are having a huge party in early December, so Thanksgiving is going to be small.

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  5. YOU HAD ME LAUGHING…………….
    OH THAT AMERICAN THING SPREADS……………..those discount malls I stay away from!IT’s all crap they buy for these outlets……NOT what it use to be.At least here anyway!
    SHOP SMALL.
    BUT SO HAPPY YOU HAD FUN WITH YOUR SIDEKICK!
    XX

    Liked by 1 person

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