French Friday: American Garages

Brand-new in California my husband booked me on a tour of the Silicon Valley, so one morning we buckled up our one year-old daughter in the back seat of our Ford station wagon, the one some neighbors called the boat, and off we went.

“The garage where everything started,” my husband announced, stopping in front of a small garage. “Hewlett Packard was born here.” He told me almost the same thing when we saw the logo of Apple on Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino. “They also worked from their parents’ garage before Apple existed.”

Even for a neophyte like me I shared my husband’s excitement. I reached for his hand. In France, I used to put my hand on his on the gearshift. Or even on his knee or thigh. The Ford was an automatic and the space between us so wide that I had to reach over to touch his sleeve. He leaned toward me.

“I know you don’t really like this kind of stuff,” he said.

“Only because I’ve had no exposure to the “stuff,”” I said. “But I’m happy to see with my own eyes and I understand why it made you dream.”

I assumed that lots of great things happened in American garages since I kept seeing “GARAGE SALE” signs everywhere.

In France, “old” means collectible and expensive, but old is part of people’s lives, so nobody had figured out in the early 1990s that buying used clothes, furniture, toys or appliances directly from your neighbor could be possible and enjoyable. We had flea markets, antique shops, and brocantes (a French version of the low-key American antique shops), but individuals wouldn’t have dared display their own oldies until years later when they launched the vide-greniers (empty attics) trend, a French version of the American garage or yard sales. On the other hand, I imagined that anything already used was vintage for Americans, and I loved watching them, tireless and enthusiastic, browse through racks of jeans and shirts, piles of china and books, hoping for the right find and I suspected for the bargain. It was also a perfect way to talk and laugh. I realized that Americans were much more gregarious and much less inhibited than the French. They were even boisterous in comparison to the guarded French I knew, more naïve and also much less judgmental. I liked those traits a lot, even though they surprised me.

I am now used to the extravert American way of life, which I find less intimidating than the guarded French way. But once in a while the vision of a car that ambles on a Saturday morning, following a Garage or Yard Sale sign, a group of men and women gathered in a driveway, browsing through “treasures,” bargaining, or just laughing and chatting between neighbors, brings a smile to my lips.

Yes, I think then, lots of great things still happen in American garages.

P.S. The photos have been taken in the horticultural gardens of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Truly gorgeous grounds.


  1. We could use a garage sale now, Evelyne! Lots of stuff to send on its way. 🙂 And we don’t even have a garage. Normally we deposits old things at one of the charities that repackages and repurposes what we have to raise funds. We had a sale once when Peggy and I were moving. There were actually some good things in the sale. There was even a mounted deer head that Peggy had inherited from her Ex. Someone was pounding on out door at 5 a.m. for that. –Curt

    • We follow in your steps here as we donate what we don’t need now that the kids are no longer living full time with us. In fact I’ve never run my own Garage Sale but stopped at a few. A friend of mine is a specialist and furnished a gorgeous home with lots of “treasures” found at garage or yard sales. Or even discarded along the sidewalk. She lives in a wealthy town where people remodel a lot.
      Love the mounted deer head story 🙂

      • RE the deer. I think some dude wanted to appear manly! 🙂 Either that or he was a professional decorator.
        I confess a weakness for large flea markets and antique stores. But it isn’t a passion. 🙂 –Curt

  2. I remember how impressed I was when I went to my first garage sale, after moving to the US from Germany. I was used to flea markets, but nobody there would have shown their neighbors the stuff that was moldering away in the basement or attic. I think garage sales are a great institution.

  3. I have given up on my husband ever helping me have a garage sale. I used to have one every year when we lived in Georgia. They’re a great way to unclutter. One year we made enough money to even consider ourselves well-paid for our time.
    I love old things. I sold more the gently used things.
    Garages and basements are sorta special spaces in America, I think.

    • I see what you mean as I am in the same boat:)
      Agree with the conviviality of garage sales. As much to chat as to sell and buy. That’s what I liked in the first place.

  4. 1marylou says:

    I’ve lived in Silicon Valley all my life, and its nice to hear others are fascinated with our world here in Northern California. Garage sales are a way of passing on without throwing away.

    • Things that used to surprise me because they were strictly Americans are no longer so strange of course. But regardless of the state, whether on the west or easy coast even garage sales which happen abroad, such as in France, keep their uniqueness, thanks to the American people who are always upbeat. Thanks for stopping by Marylou.

  5. I had a garage sale before moving from Seattle to Hartford. It was a disaster. I have never had one since, despite the urging of our daughter, who, rightly so, contends that we could stand to clear some stuff. We give things to charity collectors, but that’s it.

    • That’s what we do too, despite one of my daughter’s insistence that we would make money if we had a garage sale 🙂
      They keep intriguing me, only because of the people’s relentless enthusiasm.
      Giving away and not selling provides a great feeling than any amount of money made at a garage sale will provide, for sure.

  6. Behind the Story says:

    Garages are also the place where some bands get their start. I found this list of bands that started in garages on this site:
    Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit)
    The Ramones (Blitzkrieg Bop)
    The Kingsmen (Louie, Louie)
    Creedence Clearwater Revival (Bad Moon Rising)
    Paul Revere and the Raiders (Kicks)
    The Who (Baba O’Riley)
    Buddy Holly (Everyday)
    Weezer (Buddy Holly)
    The Kinks (You Really Got Me Going)
    Soul Asylum (Runaway Train)
    We had a garage sale when we moved to the Philippines. It was an awful lot of work.

    • Oh, yes! Music! So true. Thank you, Nicki.
      Most people have complained about the amount of time to launch a garage sale.
      Thanks for the link to bands who started in garages.

  7. Love this! I am a HUGE lover of garage sales. I also loved reading your perspective coming from a different country on one of our traditions. So fun! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Thank you, Mackenzie for stopping by. Being from another place allows foreigners to notice ordinary facts and events. Most American “things” don’t surprise me as much, of course, after so many years in the US. But I’m still intrigued. Hope to see you again!

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