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You see all three in home-made advertising signs: Tag Sale, Yard Sale, Garage Sale. They all mean the same thing: the householder has things, stuff, goods, that he no longer wants, and is willing to sell them to you, presumably at a very low cost.

The ‘Yard’ and ‘Garage’ are obviously the location of such sales. Frequently you see signs for Gargage Sales in parts of the country where the weather might be inclement – everywhere except the Southwest. ‘Tag’ refers to the little white sticker that should be affixed to every item announcing its price. It always gives one an uncomfortable feeling if there’s no tag – it means the seller is going to size you up and price the item accordingly. You’ll probably pay more for an untagged item if you’re wearing your mink instead of your blue jeans jacket. In New England, where we used to live, ‘Tag Sale’ was the most frequently used appellation. But whatever you call it, it’s a great thing, and something we don’t see in Italy, unfortunately.

When we’ve asked Italian friends why there are never any tag sales they have told us that they are not legal. Why? Presumably it’s because the State would not be able to collect taxes on such impromptu and unregulated commerce. What a pity. The best we can do in Italy is take our unwanted things to an ‘Usato’ – a store that sells used stuff and, of course, takes a hefty commission for doing so. A visit to the Usato is always loads of fun, there is so much to see, and of all kinds of quality. But it doesn’t have the character of each and every tag sale, which bravely puts the seller’s taste (present or former) on display for all to see. At some tag sales you might see a lot of tools; at another you might find lots of truly ugly art; at another lots of kitchen gear. You never know.

Photo courtesy of L.A. Times

A digression: I used to haunt tag sales, as much for entertainment as anything else (heaven knows we have all the ‘stuff’ we could ever want or need). Years ago I went to a rather up-scale sale in the small Connecticut town where we used to live; I was thrilled when my eye fell on a pressure cooker, a tool our kitchen was without and which I wanted – more from a sentimental wish because my mother frequently used one than from any real need. It was only $5 and was in perfect shape, except for needing a new gasket. I grabbed it, and continued perusing the goods on display. I soon ran into our town’s wealthy dowager, whom I’ll call Lib. When she saw ‘my’ pressure cooker her eyes got big, “Are you going to buy that?” she asked.
“Yes!” I answered with alacrity, and then went on, “Why? Do you want it?”
“I do,” she said.
“I can’t believe you don’t have a pressure cooker, Lib,” I opined.
“Oh I do,” she replied, “I have three. I just really like pressure cookers.”
That was when I recognized that she was a fellow tag-sale junkie, and that there was no need to offer to let her buy ‘my’ pressure cooker.

A friend, when I mentioned all this to her, reminded me that there is also a thing called an ‘estate sale,’ which you see frequently in New England. But all it is is a high-end tag sale: better stuff, higher prices, and an opportunity for the seller to feel that he lives on an estate rather than in a house. Which reminds me another digressive tag sale story I must share. One of my work buddies reported that she went to a terrible tag sale in a neighboring town. On the porch of the house she found a box labeled in big black letters, “Stuff Barb Don’t Want.” We laughed over that for weeks (and still do sometimes) – it had to be the worst presentation and lousiest advertising ever. Definitely not an Estate Sale.

But back to Italy – wouldn’t it be great if people could have tag sales there? It would be a way for the house-holder to both get rid of clutter and to bring in a little cash, always welcome in hard times, which is what we’re having there now. It wouldn’t really hurt the Usato shops, because there will always be people who don’t want the bother of a tag sale. Believe me, it’s a lot of work to have a tag-sale; we’ve had many ourselves (have to get rid of all the junk I’ve bought at tag sales somehow). The lost revenue of taxes would be nothing compared to what is lost every minute through graft and cheating on taxes. And besides – as there are no tag sales now there is no tag sale tax revenue, so there’s nothing to lose except the minuscule amount that the Usato would be turning in.

So my modest proposal to Mr. Monti is this: somewhere in all the financial reforms, tuck in a proposal to allow tag sales. Everyone will win. Heck, if you’re worried about revenue, sell a permit for the sale for E5 or E10. Then it becomes a money-maker, and no doubt the apparatus to sell such permits is already in place. It’s a wonderfully Italian solution – give a bit more freedom, but encumber it with a bit more bureaucracy. Yay!