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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".

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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