A long time ago I had a friend who was the daughter of educated French parents who’d transplanted themselves to Canada. They loved their adopted country.
When they first came to to Canada they marveled at the verdant and lovely quality of Canadian Spring. After the long harsh winter it was truly a blessing, a time of happiness and renewal and rebirth. Everything was so joyously fragrant and green, a sight for sore eyes, especially after so many months of so many shades of white and grey. There was one odd thing they couldn’t understand about Spring in this new country. As they drove through their neighbourhood they couldn’t understand why so many homes had signs on their lawns advertising the fact they had dirty garages. It was shocking. And odd. They couldn’t figure it out. Who would do such a thing? And why?
They didn’t figure it out until an Anglophone friend explained that “Garage Sale” doesn’t mean “Filthy Garage,” it just means that the people are selling their old stuff. You see, in French, sale translates to something that’s dirty, nasty, foul, and unclean.
Translation issues aside, garage sales, or yard sales, or whatever you call them, don’t mean the same thing for everyone everywhere. This is something I’ve always wanted to explore. I’ve always wondered if people in other countries have garage sales too or if it is largely the invention of our own society. Is the garage sale a product of the crazy style- and gadget-driven consumer-oriented part of the world we live in today? What do you think?
When I was 18 I was travelling in the Czech Republic. One evening I was having a few beers with a friend. (Because that’s what you do in Prague, where beer is big.) I don’t know how we got on the topic, but we got to talking about garage sales. At first she didn’t understand what I was talking about.
“What do you mean you sell your stuff,” she asked.
I could see that she wasn’t kidding. She’d really never heard of a garage sale. In fact, she appeared to be astounded at the very idea. I continued, grasping for the right words to explain.
“If you were hosting a garage sale you’d sort through our things and decide what you didn’t want.” I said, slowly. “Then you put little price tags on each individual item, and put it all on a table in front of your house.”
“The house where I live?”
“And who buys this stuff?” By this point she was totally flabbergasted. “Do you sell it to your friends and neighbours? Your neighbours go through your old STUFF?”
I mulled this over. I could see what she was getting at. “Well. Yes.”
By this time my friend was laughing so hard she could hardly breathe. In fact, she was practically hyperventilating. “Your … neighbours … buy YOUR … old… things… BWA HA HA!”
She nearly fell off her stool, unable to speak. People were beginning to stare. Seriously. And I swear it wasn’t the beer talking. I think she was imagining a table full of raggedy old underwear and broken dishes. I was mildly offended at the time but I now understand where she was coming from. My friend was born in a former communist country at a time when people didn’t own a lot of things. As a result, their relationship with stuff was different than ours.
That’s when I learned that garage sales are a rather unique, and a rather new, cultural phenomenon. Perhaps they are limited to people on this side of the ocean? I’m still not sure. If anyone is reading this from far away I’d sure like to know.