Some people shop flea markets as a hobby. For Toma Clark Haines (also known as the Antiques Diva), antiquing is a sport, a profession, an art, a lifestyle. What started out as a blog to share her passion for digging up rare gems in markets across Europe quickly evolved into tours, an online store and a popular international following. Today, we are happy to present her advice for making the most of her very favorite of flea markets, the world-renowned National Fair for Ham and Antiques at Chatou. – Geneviève

The fair coordinators who organize my favorite French flea market – La Foire Nationale à la Brocante et aux Jambons in Ile de Chatouwhich is going on in the Paris suburbs March 11-20, 2011, have compiled “Les 10 Commandements du Chineur a la Brocante de Chatou” or “The 10 Commandments of Flea Marketing at Chatou” to help customers shop the fair.

Because their version is only available in French, I thought I’d provide you with a rough translation (and a few ad libs) to let you know what the French fair coordinators have to say about what to do – or more importantly what not to do – when shopping this National French Fair of the Flea Market and Ham.  Now that’s what I call the inside scoop à la française!

1) Se lever tôt et venir en semaine. Get up early and come shop during the week (to avoid weekend crowds).

2) Ne pas hésiter à revenir souvent: la marchandise se renouvelle pendant la durée de la Foire. Don’t visit the market just once; return often as many vendors continue to put out new inventory throughout the duration of the fair.

3) Avoir l’oeil vif et la curiosité en éveil. Shop with a keen eye and let your curiosity guide you.

4) Prendre son temps: fouiner, chiner, chercher inlassablement pour dénicher la pièce unique. Take your time to snoop, scour, dig and rake through the piles. Your persistence will pay off when you find that rare, one-of-a-kind piece.

5) Montrer que l’objet ou le meuble vous intéresse. Don’t be afraid to be direct: tell the vendor which items you’re interested in.

6) Discuter gentiment, personne ne doit perdre la face. When bargaining, be nice.  No one needs lose face during the negotiation process.

7) Rester courtois, pas d’offre ridicule ou de capitulation honteuse. This point is so important that the fair coordinators make it twice: remain polite, don’t push for ridiculous or insulting bargains.

8 ) Ne pas dénigrer la marchandise, le brocanteur connaît les défauts de ce qu’il propose et ajuste son prix en conséquence, donc il faut savoir doser habilement ses réticences. Do not disparage the inventory. The dealer is already aware of his products’ defects and prices his goods accordingly. While asking for a discount is always expected at the market, you need to present your proposals skillfully.

9) Faire appel aux experts présents pendant toute la durée de la Foire en cas de litige. The fair has experts on hand to evaluate and give estimates on inventory at the fair. Should you need an extra opinion, don’t hesitate to get the experts to weigh in.

10) La rigueur n’est pas de règle, c’est la loi de l’offre et de la demande et celle de la mode. Le prix est basé sur la qualité et la rareté de l’objet. Aussi faut-il beaucoup regarder, questionner, marchander, savoir dire non et quitter avec gentillesse, ne pas se presser. Price is based on any number things – from supply and demand to a product’s quality, rarity and trend status at any given time.  Check prices from stall to stall, ask the vendor questions about the pieces you’re interested in and always haggle and if the price isn’t interesting to you. Also please remember to thank the vendor for his time.

Bon Shopping,

The Antiques Diva

  • Check out The Paris Apartment, another one of our favorite antique divas, who also offers fantastic antique tours in Paris
  • Sharon, from My French Country Home, offers fabulous Brocante tours in her French countryside town in Normandy
  • Gorgeous lifestyle and interior design inspiration at Elements of Style

Written by Toma Clark Haines. All images by Dave Bloom. Dave Bloom is an American photographer based in Paris. Contact: Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.



Toma Clark Haines

Toma is an international public speaker and writes regularly about antiques and travel shopping. Through her website, Antiques Diva, Toma gives antique shopping tours in Europe, writes about antiquing and runs an online antique and vintage shop exporting the best of Europe to buyers around the world.


  1. I think these 10 commandments of flea marketing does not only apply in the flea markets of France, but with flea markets in general. You did a great job translating these commandments and I surely learned a lot from these advices. I hope I can visit France’s flea market soon.

  2. Great advice Toma! Looking forward to antiquing the French way, once I have space for the treasures.

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