PARIS, August 15, 2011 (AFP) - Used to the good life, France has lagged behind many other countries in using the marketing muscle of the Internet to spur interest in second-hand goods.
But today, belts are tightening as spending power declines and unemployment rises -- and more seems likely next week when President Nicolas Sarkozy unveils plans to narrow the country's budget deficit.
As a result, traditional reluctance about "pre-owned" possessions is evaporating.
Since roughly the start of the year, a flurry of websites has sprouted in which people rent or even give away their personal belongings -- a donation that comes with the condition that the would-be owner has to collect.
"After the CAC 40 [the main French stock barometer] went into a dive at the start of the month, we experienced a very big rise in the number of people wanting to hire items on our site," said Alexandre Woog, co-founder of e-loue.
The site, which means e-hire in French, has a remarkable range of goods for rent.
They include run-of-the-mill stuff such as cars, boats and tools, but also country cottages, champagne glasses, a cake stand, a goat (10 euros, or 14 dollars, a day), a cinema's popcorn maker -- and a host of big-name suits and gowns and the designer bling to go with it.
Such things are terrific for people who, just for an evening, want to live the high life at a low price.
The renters benefit, too.
"Think about it," said Woog. "If you buy a handbag for 250 euros (355 dollars), all you have to do is rent it out for 10 euros (14 dollars) a night for 25 times, and you've got your money back!"
-- 'It's been a lifesaver' --
E-loue took off as a market-place for consumers, but demand has been so impressive that a business-to-business version has now been launched, says Woog.
Other sites that have flourished in tougher times include www.donnons.org -- "let's give" in French -- in which people offload unwanted possessions for free to whoever is willing to pick them up.
Founder Olivier Nass, aged 37, says that 550,000 objects have found new homes over the last three years, and right now the site is getting more than 60,000 hits per day.
The site bans gifts of animals and food and, according to Nass, problems are extremely rare, in the range of one deal in every 1,000.
"It's been a lifesaver for a large number of people who don't have enough money to buy tools or gadgets or clothing, leaving them the means to focus on essentials such as rent," said Nass.
A rival donation site is co-recyclage.com, set up in April by Thomas Duclos Chanteaud, a seven-year veteran with French trash collectors Veolia Proprete.
"The goal is simply to provide a point of contact between two people who are keen on recycling," he said.
"For example, someone who picks up a second-hand sofa will not be buying a new one, which would increase his carbon footprint. And the person who's getting rid of the sofa won't be sending it to the rubbish dump, where it would probably be incinerated, adding to greenhouse gases."
France produces mountains of rubbish each year -- 391 kilos (860 pounds) a year per household, a figure that has doubled over 40 years in spite of efforts to reuse glass bottles and metal and plastic packaging.