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 The Art of Negotiation. Read on in today's story column.

marchander (mar shahn day) verb

    : to negotiate

French synonyms: chiner /she-nay/ (to look for bargains) débattre (to discuss, debate a price) chicaner (to quibble over), lésiner = to skimp on
English synonyms: to dicker, to bargain, to wrangle, to haggle, to higgle, to huckster

marchander un prix = to negotiate a price
tenter de marchander = to try to bargain

Il y a des bons coups à faire mais il faut toujours marchander.
There are good deals to be had but you've always got to haggle (over the price).

Audio File: Listen to today's word, expressions, and example sentence: Download Wav or Download MP3

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Recently, during a trip north to the Alps, the subject of negotiation came up. 15-year-old Max had seen his dad bartering wine for anything from honey to home improvements. He had overheard his mom brag about the "killing" she had made on some cripple ranunculus (the lady at the supermarket practically gave the flowers away, rather than toss them out). 

Keys2 And both Max and Jackie had heard the story behind the "Wall of Keys" wherein their mom walked off with 100 antique clés--along with the unusual board they were nailed to—after haggling and higgling with the brocante dealer. When the pseudo-antiquaire wanted to sell the "Wall" one key at a time, the newbie negotiator with the strong American accent balked: on n'arrivera jamais comme ça! Here are 100 euros for the keys and stand and that's my best offer—if you'll throw in this stack of old newspapers! (the journals were from the turn of the century, dated 1909....).

I was dumbstruck when the dealer accepted and I quickly dragged off the Wall of Keys only to struggle getting the board in the back of my little car. I zigzagged around like a chicken picking up a trail of keys which had fallen during what might have been a heist.


But back to the topic of negotiation, Max was curious to know if one could, for example haggle over ham at the local supermarché. 
"I don't think so, Max", I pointed out, amused at the thought of asking the caissière whether she might "throw in" one more pack of jambon and then she'd have herself a buyer! No this would not go over well and besides, that's what coupons are for.

As Max pondered the art of negotiation, Jean-Marc had an inspiration:
"Would you like me to try to negotiate the price of that quilt?" I had seen the antique boutis in a brocante and had been pining for it ever since.We were presently on our way home from vacation and it was now or never. I reasoned that the boutis would make both a nice souvenir and be of use in the house.

Further justifying the purchase (the boutis was 50 euros and not a need but a want...) I decided that Jean-Marc's offer might be a good opportunity for the kids to learn about L'Art de Marchander. And no one is better at bartering than their frugal French father ("Le Bon Negociateur").

"Here's what we'll do..." Jean-Ma
rc went over the game plan. We were to mosey on in to the brocante, head over, haphazardly, to the linens section, and proceed to look pathetically bored. Next, the four of us (our daughter, Jackie was in on the act) were to inspect the boutis as if it were a smelly old rag, and point out, in hushed tones (loud enough to reach the antique dealer) how the "old chiffon" might even be bug-infested. Quelle horreur! Finally, the head of our group, Le Bon Negociateur, was to—almost in passing, as one passes a crippled cat on the street and shows pity—offer to unburden the antique dealer of this unsightly sujet. The subject being that charming 1940's quilt.

Jean-Marc had taken care to come up with a "Plan B," in case the dealer wasn't "buyin' it". "Plan B" was to leave the store and not look back. We were to act as if we were getting into the car and driving off for good, and bon débarras at that! The idea was that the brocanteur would run after us, begging to accept our first offer after grossly overlooking our charity.

When plan B did not work we found ourselves seated stiffly in the car, blanket-less, and feeling quite con. That's when Le Bon Négociateur capitulated.
"Well, let's go in and get your blanket," Jean-Marc offered. "He's not going to budge on the price."

My cheeks still smarting from embarrassment, there was no way I was going to walk back into that brocante after our dramatic, shake-the-dust-off-our-shoes, exit.

That is when it occurred to me that 1) I still really wanted that antique boutis and 2) wasn't the embarrassed feeling more like pride? Why not take that bite of humble pie and walk back inside?

And back into the shop I sklunked, in time to fork over the 50 euros. Meantime Jean-Marc collected the ravissant "rag" and we both thanked the antique dealer. That is when my eyes traveled over the the set of faïence dinner plates.... I wondered just what the price of those might be, considering we'd just unburdened the dealer of the blanket... and wouldn't it only be fair to receive a discount on the next purchase (the ol' "petit geste commercial"? Might this be a good time for Mr. No Bargains Brocanteur to practice a discount)?

My mind might have thought up 50 reasons to reduce the price of those plates, instead, I quickly followed Jean-Marc out of the shop. I'd had my slice of Humble for the day, better leave some cake for the next capitulator.

Jean-Marc with "le boutis".

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::

Have your say about today's story or the word of the day. Click here to comment. Merci d'avance!

DSC_0136 Bonjour Paris Column
Thanks for checking out my hymn "The Coattails of Cricketsong" over at Bonjour Paris!

French Vocabulary

la brocante (syn. le marché aux puces) = flea market
on n'arrivera jamais comme ça = we'll never get anywhere at this rate
le supermarché = supermarket
la caissière (le caissier) = clerk, checker (cashier)
le jambon = ham
le boutis = quilted blanket
l'art de marchander = the art of bargaining (check out this informative article)
le bon négociateur = the smart negotiator
quelle horreur = how frightening
le sujet = the subject
bon débarras = good riddance

 A Day in a Dog's Life... by Smokey R. Dokey
.............. ....................................................

Smokey says: the word of the day is marchander and, speaking of smokin' deals, Gramma K got a great barkin' bargain on that postcard rack (can you see it, far left?) : 20 euros. It makes a fun and tasty picture stand (I should know as I've eaten all of the photos on the bottom row. This photo was taken before the feast.)


Mr. Smoke says: Won't you order Gramma K's book? Makes a GREAT Father's Day gift -- filled with family stories, with several appearances from our own Father Hen (aka Le Bon Negotiateur)

 Words two(Booklist) Blogger Espinasse has taken a step backward in the evolution of media by converting selected contents of her Web log into a book. Her popular blog covers a different French word each day for an English-speaking audience. Espinasse's "definitions" come from her everyday experiences, particularly those provoked by her children's frequent delight at their mother's mistakes, misuses, and mispronunciation of words. Order this book.

More Gift Ideas:
French film: My Father's Glory

French games: Mille Bornes: First published in 1962, Mille Bornes (pronounced "meel born," French for "milestones") is an auto racing card game whose object, for each team of two players, is to be the first to complete a series of 1,000-mile trips.

Rosetta Stone French Level 1, 2, & 3

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Bill in St. Paul

Great story, Kristin, but I don't know that I would have been able to go back after Plan A and Plan B failed (too much pride and embarrassment). Unfortunately for you, the antique dealer has probably seen Plan A and Plan B and several other plans before and knew that if you were trying Plans A & B that you REALLY wanted le boutis, and if he just held his ground, you'd be back.

Great to see Smokey looking so good.

gail bingenheimer

"On lit dans les vitrines de toutes ces boutiques: Ici on parle francais."
There are signs in the windows of all these shops: French is spoken here.

Marianne Rankin

It's a good thing we can't bargain in regular stores, or the lines would be even longer than they are. But sort of fun to do so once in a while in other places.

Years ago, when touring in Egypt, I'd bought a small footed bowl. For some reason, the Egyptians never seem to have change, only bills. I insisted that I be given the change due me for my purchase. Since the merchant didn't have any, he gave me a small bell instead. I still have both of them.

I enjoyed "The Coattails of Cricketsong." Shades of Walt Whitman!

Since I see that Max is now 15, he must have had a birthday. Hope it was a happy day.


Great tale. Have a wonderful week-end!

Barbara Andolsek Paintings

No matter how busy I am, I always read your wonderful stories, sometimes having to save them to read later. Glad you were able to 'acquire' le boutis no matter the cost.


Well, it was worth a try! And thank you for all that useful "negotiating" terminology.

P.S. The boutis is a gorgeous color. I can see how it drew your eye.

Daryl in Houston

What a striking boutis. The wall of keys is arresting as well. Do post a photo showing the boutis on a bed or on the wall--or however you choose to display it!

Diane Scott

I have a treasure from a brocante we gamely wandered into in the ancient town of Domfront in Normandy! A faience milk pitcher in the shape of "Chanticleer" (a Chaucer-inspired name for a "coq" featured in "The Nun's Tale"). While no "l'art de marchander" emerged from me as I stood there numbly (and dumbly) holding out my prize to the clerk praying that she could speak some English, she obviously took pity on me and suggested a lower price, probabaly just to get me and my large family out of her stuffed store as soon as possible before "a bull in a china shop" disaster occurred!


Hi Kristin,
I did see your post at the end of the previous FWAD and sent you a few posts!

Now, not knowing the Provençal word "boutis", but thanks to the photo giving a good illustration of it, I would have called the desirable red object:
-> "un couvre-lit matelassé"
or -> "une couverture de lit piquée"
maybe -> "un édredon".
or even -> "une courtepointe piquée"

I love craftwork, so, "un grand merci" for the Provençal word which made me want to know a bit more about the art of "boutis" and the objects made using the technique!
Interesting explanations in this website:

I do remember those gorgeous keys and your newsletter sent after you acquired them! Lovely to see your lovely piles of red tommettes (to be used outside?...)

Mille mercis for the suspense and fun of this "fascinante histoire à rebondissements".

Time flies!... and I ought to get away from my laptop for the time being...

A very enjoyable weekend to you and to everyone!

Margaret Dennis

Thank you for today's post. A apecial thanks for translating chiner. I have been trying to work out the translation since I bought a book on antiquing while in Paris last September. My friend Amanda, who joined us in Paris, and I sell antiques and love the puces. She is far better than than I am at driving a hard bargain. It is not just the obvious fact that her French is far superior to mine, she is just darn good at it. I admit I make her do the bargaining for me but I am learning.

It is an art. Your story of teacher Marc and student Max made me laugh. Those of us who sell antiques have some great stories -- some successful, some not. I better start polishing my skills for our trip in September.

Margaret in muggy, muggy Durham, NC.


Marianne, I love bells and hope yours made up for the missing bill :-)

Daryl, I meant to take a picture of the boutis (now on the bed), but time ran out. Will see what I can do... and eventually add a link.

Diane, well talk about turning the tables! I've never heard of a dealer suggesting a lower price to a client! Great story.

Newforest, I'm enjoying the links and the learning (in English, too! I had to look up effigy, but won't forget it now). Re the the gorse bush -- it looks like "scorpian genet".

Margaret, thanks for the phrase "driving a hard bargain". I had been looking for more synonyms and phrases in English and this one is perfect! Wishing you many finds in September!

Thank you Barbara, Mary, and everyone for your comments. I join Newforest in wishing you all a very enjoyable weekend.

Jules Greer

Darling Kristi,

Such a charming story to set the tone for the weekend-all the way through my reading I just kept thinking, "What a joy this French-Word-A-Day brings into my life each week". Then I always seem to have a mental flash back to the very first days of your blog when I would be sitting in your cozy little office in Les Arcs seven years ago and you would be agonizing over every single word in your post. Can you believe those were the days when only 10 people read your blog. I remember telling you, "Darling, one day there will be 5,000.

Well...it looks like today you hit 27,000
on your reader counter - WOW!!! --- I am just over the top with joy on your finding all these people to share your love of life with each week. It's like a little city. I can barely wrap my mind around this success of yours. Most of all, to feel the warm and cozy feeling your words leave in my heart each time I read your stories is more than any Mother could hope to receive from her child.

On top of all of this - your fans have come into my heart with their comments, slowly revealing little bits and pieces of their
soul each time they send you back encouragement. I actually LOVE them...isn't that just the coolest thing you have ever heard.

I like the style your writing has taken lately, I am a sucker for these kind of stories. Have a great weekend Honey, and I am happy to see that you are thinking of slowing down a bit, a good time to work in you garden. Remember to buy more mulch, the
magic ingredient for your flowers. And please have Jacques build you some wooden frames for your garden (I have been asking for this for 2 years now. Also, please show him the photo of the hanging bed I sent you last summer and have him build that platform to hang from that giant tree down by your clothline.

I guess I don't have to sent you an email now...isn't it wonderful what Mother's can get away with...




Too funny...I think the shop owners are getting experienced : )
I love the bright color of your boutis!


Herm Meyer

Salut tout le monde,

Kristin, I enjoyed your “boutis bargain buying binge” story! I love to haggle myself and the following helpful hint was given to me:

After you make that ridiculous bid, maintain eye contact with the seller and “SHUT UP”. The silence that follows will be very difficult, there will be a temptation to justify your bid, but the first one to speak will lose.

It seems to work, but it’s not easy to do.

À bientôt,

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Robin Katsaros


Loved the story. You are too funny! Where was the camera when you walked back in? I would have loved a picture of THAT look on your face. Isn't life grand the way we can live and learn and laugh at ourselves?
Bought my tickets to Paris, the workshop paid for, and getting ready to book my TGV to Provence for Saturday, July 3 but thought you and I should coordinate . Have you bought your ticket to Paris? I keep forgetting to send you an email (but I always read your column) so am "killing two birds with one stone" (I bet there must be a fabulous equivalent French saying) and then I received the added pleasure of hearing Jules words . . . a happy day indeed.
Well, girlfriend, Paris here we come! And now I have someone to go to the new sewing cafe - remember your idea??? - yippee.... xo RK


I loved trying to picture you with the "wall-o-keys" (It was great by the way, you should have seen it from here lol!)
I have always loved the dicker and barter game whether it works out or not it's great fun. I am a firm bleiever that if at first plan A and B don't work then you go back in with a big bright smile and have a good visit while making your purchase.

Tell Max it never hurts to ask huh?

Have a great week end!

Jacqui McCargar

Kristi, it looks like your new boutis may be the same color as the walls in your bath??

Karen (in Towson, Md) Whitcome

Hi Kritin - Great story again! You can really describe a scene so well it's as if I'm there with you.

I am so envious of you being able to walk away with so many of those keys. I have a bowl full in my house but whenever I find them these days they are VERY expensive. I guess the older countries would have more of a selection.

Happy Friday!

Michael Morrison

In your story today, you referred to “ranonculas.” I am reasonably certain that the correct spelling is “ranunculus.” And that is the name in America. In France, I believe they are called “renoncule.” The first time I ever saw this flower was at a brocante fair near Pau in France. It is a very beautiful species of flower.

Despite the small spelling error, your story was fascinating and excellently written as usual.


As always, entertaining and captivating at the same time.

Karen (in Towson, Md) Whitcome

To Newforest: I just left a thank-you post on yesterdays "Coin Commentaire" which I will repeat here in case you didn't see it.

It said:

I just checked back to this post to see if we'd had any clarification on "une embrasseuse" et VOILA!!

So... “une étreinte” is an embrace and "embrasser" is to kiss. Got it.

However, I'm left ever curious as to the height of Kristin's auntie now. (hint hint KE):-)

Thank you, Newforest - I am always amazed at your vast knowledge and as always you are so helpful and you inspire me to seek out more about this wonderful language.

I'm so happy that Kristin provides us with this lovely environment to learn and have fun.

“Baisers affectueux”

lou bogue

I should think, that it would be a good idea in the future trips, a few bottles of the family treasure would come in handy for Plan "B"

luciana croci

Been there , done that
my sympathy

Frenchee le Trip

Fantastic story and so beautifully written. The theme is especially of interest to me as I'm a professional vintage buyer living in Provence. And I second Herm's advice about eye contact and buttoned lip.

By the way, I had always heard all kinds of edredons and piquée de marseille referred to as boutis, but I recently learned (thanks to a visit to the Musée du Terroir Masreillas - just posted on it) that boutis is truly only quilts with raised designs on it. Goes back to 15th century Sicily and the manufacture was imported into Marseille a century later when Sicilian seamstresses migrated and then established the tradition here.

From the photo, yours looks like an edredon. And a gorgeous one at that. I picked up a glamourous gold one this winter. Paid 7 euros for it! I didn't use Herm's method that time - I have a few to choose from.

Love your blog!

G.M. Malliet

Where oh where do you find these great photos to take every day? Each one is beautiful...

Herm Meyer

Bonjour Frenchee le Trip,

I think your inputs are right.

This link has a some good information on French quilts with pictures.....


À bientôt,

Herm in Phoenix, AZ


Hahahaha! Kristin, I absolutely loved your "'acquire' le boutis" story and the art of negotiation. After reading your story which was so great, I, too have tried Plan A and Plan B and resorted to buying an antique matelasse that i really wanted in a Georgetown, D.C. fleamarket years ago. You and Marc and family had me in tears. I am also glad that I am not the only one who was so humbled. But when I lie on my antique white matelasse and roll around on it with my silk pillows, I am okay. Keep telling us your wonderful stories.


I entered this site by chance, but I found very interesting. A greeting to all the people who visit this page.

Frenchee le Trip


Thanks! I have loose plans to go to Nimes so I will try to fit in a visit to the museum you linked me to! Very cool to find this!

not too far from Nimes

Josephine Kirkland

Thoroughly enjoyed the story and think I will remember marchander and the other words because the story was so much fun.
(Posted by Josephine in the state of WAshington. It's raining! Keep up the great stories.

Cevdet Bey ve Oğulları

Kristi, it looks like your new boutis may be the same color as the walls in your bath??

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