Beg borrow or barter. Be mean and green in 2014

New year, new trends and the trend for 2014 in France is sharing and downsizing. Clothing, food, furniture, services – don’t buy when you can beg, borrow, barter, recycle, make do and mend, glean or gather

Don’t cast away your cast offs, sell them on e-bay, give them to the local charity shop, exchange them with friends, and if you’re buying clothes it’s the same story and you know what?  Taking the second hand option is very trendy, except the French aren’t calling  it second hand – no folks this is «authentic» or «vintage». So what if you’re designer dress is last year’s model and someone has already worn it?  Who cares if your Burberry is out of style? It is still a Burberry and even better if it is a bit worse for wear – this gives it an air of authentic «lived in» chic.

As for food … what do you mean your stil doing an expensive weekly shop at the supermarket???  You shouldn’t be pushing a trolley round the aisles buying brand names. You should be out the back, rummaging through the supermarket dustbins, gleaning recently-discarded but still edible victuals. Hey, if they’re not too bad you could even try to sell them. And if you can’t glean, then grow or gather. Tomatoes and lettuce in window boxes on your balcony, mushrooms in your cellar … as for gathering, you’d be surprised how many French people head for the countryside at the weekends to scour the verges and hedgrows in search of free food – mushrooms in season, a fistful of snails, bouquets of herbs or edible leaves … And if none of this is quite your thing then buy your stuff fresh from local market gardeners or get togeher with friends and buy an animal raised by professionals to the most stringent eco-norms and … well, just make sure you don’t get too attached to your sheep, after all, you’re only raising it for fresh meat.

Peer-to-peer, comsumer-to-consumer. Your kids need extra maths coaching after school, don’t hire a teacher, trade an hour’s maths for an hour’s babysitting. Exchange or barter skills and services. Why drive yourself to work when you can car share? You need a new lawnmower? So does the guy next door. Why not buy a reconditoned second hand mower you can share?

Of course the above trends make economic sense in these hard times however in France they seem to be confined to the young urban middle class, the politically correct, the ethically aware, those with professions rather than simple jobs. Those we used to call the BoBos – the Bourgeois Bohemians with the time and the money to have principles.

The beg, borrow, barter, recycle, glean, gather trend has not totally infiltrated the lower echelons of society quite yet. The workers are still shopping at the local supermarket, they are buying new «made in China» clothing at the local discount fashion retailers. From TV’s to computers smart phones and tablets – none of the make do and mend or reconditioned second hand, it’s all new.  Seems just a little like the world turned uside down. Here are all the wealthy urban types – call them new generation Yuppies with a conscience – trying to cut back, yet all the guys stuck at the bottom of the social pyramid are still hankering after all the trappings that the rich no longer seem to aspire to.

Took a trip to one of the many local discount supermarkets over the recent festive break. The car park was full of SUV’s and expensive German saloon cars. All the well-off are shopping at Lidl whilst the less fortunate are all at the big name supermarket loading up their trolleys with brand named products. Even the local Cash Converters is full of nice middle class types selling books and educational toys.

Anyway, a last word on the downsizing trend. It is that time of year when we start to think about booking our place in the sun and this year – well you can forget the five star hotel, the Club Med or even camping. The big trend for 2014 is Air BnB. Rent someone’s flat to live in when they are not there. Cheaper than a hotel. Cheaper than many self-catering apartments, certainly less basic than camping and also highly authentic. You want the summer in Paris? Rent a flat from a real Parisian who has headed south for the summer. Mind you, why pay? Just do a house exchange.

Economic necessity or just a trend? Is what you have to share actually worth sharing and when does bartering turn to bitching? How do you measure tha value of the services or skills exchanged? Are my English teaching skills as good as your ironing skills and just how much ironing is an English lesson worth?

The bartering business is already big business. In 2013 the skills and services exchange sector in France was thought to be worth 266 billion Euros. Yes it makes economic sense and now it is highy fashionable. So if you want to be on the cutting edge in France this year, dress vintage, only eat what you can glean or gather, share your ride to work and raise veg in your window box. Be mean and green and glean.