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The Conversations With Distinguished Gentlemen Issue

Hock Talk

Located in the heart of Le Marais, the poshest gay area in all of France, Crédit Municipal is the closet thing to a Parisian pawnshop you can find. It’s run by the city because private pawnbrokering is illegal.
June 2, 2009, 12:00am


Located in the heart of Le Marais, the poshest gay area in all of France, Crédit Municipal is the closet thing to a Parisian pawnshop you can find. It’s run by the city because private pawnbrokering is illegal. You’re not allowed to interview or take photographs of its employees, but we snuck in with the ruse of pawning a watch given to us by a Jewish uncle from the States. After an hour of waiting for our appraisal, the cute girl behind the counter told us they don’t take this kind of watch, quashing our chances of a clandestine interview. So we headed outside, where two kindly women chatted with us for a few minutes about pawning in Paris.


Vice: Is this your first visit here?


No. When I need money, I always look for solutions, and one of them is coming here.

Did you just pawn something?

I just came to recuperate some jewelry I left a while ago. Sometimes I pawn carpets, silverware, and even paintings. It’s cool. They accept a lot of stuff.

What did you do with the cash you got from pawning the jewelry?

Well, I needed money because of the marriage of my son. I had no other way to find money.

Have you always retrieved your things?

Yes, absolutely. I would never let something be sold at auction. After one year, you pay 15 percent interest on the money they initially lent you, but you can extend the length of the loan indefinitely.

How about you? Is today your first visit to the wonderful Crédit Municipal?

Sudakar: No, no. I came three or four times last year.

And why are you here today?

I had to come here last week to pay $345 of interest but was informed that it had been raised to $356. So I came back. Unfortunately, my credit card doesn’t work. It sucks. I will have to come back next week.

Do you think more people are pawning now because of the credit crunch?

Maybe, but it’s very crowded here all the time, crisis or not.

They refused my uncle’s watch. Are the appraisers assholes?

Well, they decide, and you don’t really have any other choice than to accept their decision. You can’t bargain.


Stand-alone pawnshops are rare in Italy. Most people go to these special offices inside banks. We visited one in the Regional European Bank in Milan. And, like many other Italian things, our pseudo–pawnshop turned out to be a meeting point between the secular, the financial, and the religious. We chatted with Giorgio Montanari, the department head, and Sergio Cavagna, who’s been at the front desk since 1952.


Vice: Hello there. How does your weird little operation work?

Giorgio Montanari:

The client brings us his or her precious objects and he or she can, within six months, either pay back the interest and continue to pawn objects or pay back the interest and the principal to get the objects back. The client can renovate this “lease” indefinitely, and if he or she cannot pay back the principal and the interest, the object will end up sold at auction.

What kind of things do you accept?

Gold and watches.

What’s the difference between the Italian practice and the international standard?

Sergio Cavagna: We are part of a bank. In Italy, there are very few private institutions that provide this service. At a place like ours the client is much more protected. Here the main responsibility is that of the evaluator. If one were to evaluate an object incorrectly, the evaluator is obliged by Italian law to compensate the bank.

So there are no private pawnshops in Italy?

There are very few left. I think there must be one left in Rome and one in Genoa.

But weren’t the first pawnshops in Italy? Yes. It first began in Perugia in 1462, and ours in Milan was opened in 1496. The modern-day pawnshop has a Catholic origin—Franciscan, to be precise. It was established to defeat usury and help the poor.

Are you still close with the church?

Milan has always closed its door in the face of attempts at ecclesiastical control. And yet we’ve received the Franciscan license three times. It is recognition that what we do has value. It also allows us to instantly cancel all our sins. Whoever administers a credit institution of our kind will be recognized, when he gets to the gates of paradise, as a Franciscan and will have all the prerogatives and benefits that monks are entitled to.

So you can sin like a motherfucker.


A PAWNSHOP IN… New York | Mexico City & Brussels | Amsterdam & Vienna | Paris & Milan | Berlin & São Paulo | Helsinki & Barcelona | Melbourne & Tokyo | Vancouver & Aukland | Stockholm & London |