One of the features of life in France is pub day. No, not what you're thinking, but the day when the weekly batch of publicité hits some twenty million post boxes, just in time for the week's promos to start on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Before we moved here I always assumed, somewhat smugly, that being green sort of people with all the right credentials for Saving the Planet we would put a 'Pas de pub' sticker on our post box and thereby eschew the weekly enticements to save (and spend) money. But that was, as I said, before ...
The weekly promotions, and the publicité that announces them, really are the oil that lubricates the wheels of buying here. We learned fast that it would be unwise to think that you can just go out and shop for something whenever you feel like it. It's possible to do that, of course, but it's likely to hurt the wallet quite a lot more than going down the pub route and is therefore regarded as rather foolish. The weekly promotions cover everything from food to fridges to plants to parasols; there is a true art to understanding when, and how, to get the best bargains.
First, you need to understand the concept of seasonality. If you want garden chairs or a new garden parasol, for example, as we did this week, the time to be on the ball is the first or second week in April; if you want a good price on a wood burner, it's the middle of October. The best time to find plants, shrubs and trees on promo in the grandes surfaces is the first week of the February school holidays; we bought three small fruit trees this year for less than 8 euros each. If you're looking to stock up on a year's worth of pig, then the Foires au Porc in November are for you, when prices are often less than half their normal level. Ditto, in this region at least, the ubiquitous magret de canard. And so on. It's no good hoping to find bargains at the end of the season, as one does in England; by that time there's nothing left. If you happen to need a garden table in August, forget it (on the other hand if your child needs a new cartable for the imminent rentrée...).
Secondly, don't think you can slouch around and just turn up on the last day of the promo. You'll have missed it. No, you need to be there on the first, or at the latest the second, day if you want to find what you're looking for - because if you're not, you can be sure that any number of canny others will be.
And thirdly, if you're to stand any chance at all against the time-served local promo-hunters, you need to observe their behaviour and copy it. This means that you enter the shop blatantly carrying your copy of the appropriate promo catalogue, prominently marked with your item of choice for which you make a beeline. You examine it every which way; you find an assistant to 'sell' it to you (only the English buy without discussion, even if it is the bargain of the day); you compare it minutely against the description in the catalogue. Finally convinced, you take it to the checkout, where you check that it's gone through at the promotional price and/or that you've received the correct number of points on your loyalty card. Often it hasn't or you haven't, such things being set centrally and therefore not always being completely up to date, so you point to the catalogue and wait (as does everybody behind you) until it's sorted out.
If you're really keen, you can even check the promos of all the grandes surfaces online at http://www.promoconso.net. I have to confess to having done this on more than one occasion, which may well make me into a slightly sad person in your eyes, as indeed it does in my own. But in mitigation, it is rather good fun; it is the French way; and in these times of la crise it certainly saves more than a few hard-earned euros.