Sunday, December 21, 2003

Bought presents for everybody but yourself? There's still time to ask Santa for cash and a plane ticket to Paris so you can hit the spectacular post-holiday sales that start the second week in January. Here are some tips to help you find the deals -- and compensate for an exchange rate that's more naughty than nice.

WHAT'S THE DEAL? From Jan. 7 to Feb.7, nearly every store in Paris will put fall and winter merchandise on sale. Discounts of 50 percent off are commonplace. Dates are officially set by the government. Best deals are on seasonal items like clothing, but it's rare to find a store that isn't playing along. (Hint: Look for the signs that say soldes.) Avoid the Saturday crowds and remember, most shops are closed on Sundays.

WHERE THE BUYS ARE: Short on time? Hit the department stores (info and addresses are listed at to up your buying power with discount cards and tax refunds (see below). At Monoprix stores, scattered across the city, find bargains on clothing, accessories and makeup; most also have groceries downstairs. For a convenient block of discount shops, head to Rue Saint-Placide, between Cherche-Midi and Sèvres (6th Arrondissement; Metro: Sèvres-Babylone), where Mouton à Cinq Pattes (No. 8) has designer clothing and Du Pareil Au Même (No. 14) sells creative kids' wear. Farther afield, Rue d'Alésia (14th Arrondissement; Metro: Alésia) is lined with outlet stores, including Cacharel (No. 114) and Daniel Hechter (No. 92).

Or keep an eye out for these money-saving clues on the front of stores: dégriffé (designer merchandise with labels removed); stock (surplus stock boutiques, often outlets) and dépôt-vente (resale shop).

DISCOUNT CARDS: Department stores Au Printemps, Galeries Lafayette and La Samaritaine offer 10 percent discount cards year-round. Find them in tourist brochures or ask at the stores' welcome desks. You must show your passport with each purchase, and some products are excluded.

TAX REFUND: Taxes of up to 19.6 percent are included in French sticker prices. You can get some of it back if you spend a minimum of 175 euros (about $215) in the same store on the same day. This sweet deal, for non-EU citizens only, is the detaxe. The easiest tactic is to group your purchases at a single department store, then take the receipts to a customer service desk, where they'll start the paperwork for a 12 percent refund to your credit card. Don't forget your passport. Other tourist-friendly stores should give the detaxe and may refund more than 12 percent -- but ask before buying.

When you leave France (or the EU), get the papers stamped at a Customs office and drop them in the mail, using the included envelope. At the airport, do this before checking your luggage (you may have to show the goods) and allow plenty of time to wait in line.

COOL THINGS TO BUY WITHOUT THE EIFFEL TOWER ON THEM: Head to a grocery store for deals under $3, including Maille flavored mustards, Confipote jams, dark chocolate bars, elegant teas and flavored tisanes (herb teas) . . . Monoprix has chunky-chic Rhodia notepads for under $2 . . . Diptyque candles (34 Blvd. Saint Germain, 5th Arrondissement; Metro: Maubert-Mutualité; or department stores) are expensive but divine; save $10 to $20 over U.S. prices . . . For an upscale take on Home Depot, check the paint section at BHV (52/64 Rue de Rivoli, 4th Arrondissement; Metro: Hotel-de-Ville), which offers très-French wall stencils . . . For reasonably priced lingerie, try Darjeeling (Rue de Sèvres at Saint-Placide; 7th Arrondissement; Metro: Sèvres-Babylone), then cross the street to La Grande Epicerie (38 Rue de Sèvres) and ogle the equally sensuous food.

SHOPPING TOURS: Chic Shopping Paris (011-336-14-56-23-11, offers a number of four-hour tours ranging from food to baby gear to antiques, plus custom sale tours. Price is about $123 per person, with a maximum of five people. French Links (011-331-45-77-01-63, has a "Pretty Lady" day of beauty and shopping, a discount designer tour and other offerings. Prices start at $400 for up to six people for four hours. Shopping Plus (011-331-47-53-91-17, has three tours, including haute-couture; cost is about $304 for three hours (including tea) and about $492 for six hours (with lunch) for up to two people.

SHOPPING BOOKS: Love it or hate it, Suzy Gershman's "Born to Shop Paris" (Frommer's, $15.99) is the best-known guide, with some good tips but heavy doses of the author's personality. Other useful resources include the "Insight Guides Shopping in Paris" (Insight Guides, $9.95), by Cathy Muscat, which is organized by location; "The Paris Shopping Companion" (Cumberland House, $12.95 ), by Susan Swire Winkler, also organized by location; and "Best Buys and Bargains in Paris" (Writers Club Press, $12.95), by Jeanne Feldman, organized by product type. Make sure you get the most recent edition, as stores come and go quickly.

INFO: For details on Paris shopping, go to; click on "English," then "Shopping."

-- Gayle Keck

© 2003 The Washington Post Company