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LIVING IN FRANCE

Les étrennes: How much to tip at New Year in France

The French may have a reputation for not tipping, but they have a New Year's tradition which certainly breaks the stereotype. Here's what you need to know about the old custom of 'les étrennes' and who exactly you might want to think about tipping.

Les étrennes: How much to tip at New Year in France
Photo: AFP/deposit photos

The French might be said to be among the stingiest tippers in the world but that reputation does not take into account a longstanding New Year’s custom that still exists, although is said to be slowly dying out.

A week after Christmas, present-giving in France is far from over. After digging deep into their pockets to spoil their families, in early January it’s time to thank the “man/woman on the street” or in their apartment block, or even in their home.

It’s long been a tradition in France to give workers like postal workers, firefighters, rubbish collectors, cleaners, caretakers and concierges (les gardiens in your apartment block) an envelope with anything from €5 to €50 as a token of your gratitude.

These little financial shows of gratitude are called “étrennes“.

Etrennes can also take the form of a Christmas box or a New Year’s gift.

France has the Romans to thank for this selfless act. They worshipped Strenua, the goddess of the New Year, purity and well-being, and as a result they exchanged gifts as good omens.

The tradition has lived on in France despite being banned after the French Revolution.

While the tradition remains, some suggest the custom appears to be dying out somewhat with one poll showing that only 18 percent of French people will hand over cash this year.

For the president of the country’s union of concierges the tradition is dying out partly because people feel they have less cash to spare.

“Most people, whether or not they are owners or tenants, when you hear them speak, they talk of the problems that they have, the cost of the concierge or the expensive charges (extra-costs for the upkeep of the apartment block), so we understand,” said Slavica Nikolic.

The union president said that if the tradition of les étrennes disappears it will put the livelihoods of many gardiens at risk.

But the burning question asked in France each year is combien? In other words: how much should I give?

It’s important to remember that you are under no obligation to give anyone a tip and there’s no official rules to follow for how much to give.

The biggest dilemma normally surrounds the concierge of your apartment block. Residents must ask themselves how much they want to give the person who is in charge of receiving all their packages throughout the year, keeping their corridors clean and who sometimes they must leave a spare key with. Even if they are not a fan or find their gardien highly unhelpful, do they really want to cheese them off?

Here’s a guide on roughly how much you should give.

The concierge/gardien: If your building’s caretaker has been particularly helpful and polite, anything from €30 to €50. Although residents who have been there a few years may well give more, especially if the gardien has also been there a while

There is an unwritten rule that renters should give 10 percent of their monthly rent, so €100 for anyone who pays €1,000 a month rent.

But it’s worth noting that giving the “étrennes” is not obligatory so if you really can’t stand your concierge, if you never see him, or if your block of flats is a mess, then don’t feel you have to part with a penny.

The postie: Postal workers should get between €5 and €8, France TV Info argues, especially if they come round to yours armed with a rival calendar to that of the firefighters.

The cleaner: At least €50. Remember the times your flat was a tip and how the cleaner left it looking sparkling before you hosted all those guests. That and the fact that they are likely underpaid, anyway.

The garbage collectors: A €5 bill for France’s rubbish collectors. They’re doing the job none of us want to do, they get up at an ungodly hour and they rake it in, literally but not metaphorically.  

Firefighters: €5 to €10 for the sapeurs-pompiers. Some 78 percent of France’s 244,900 firefighters are volunteers so they’ve definitely earned more than just a pat on the back. Many firefighters also sell calendars at this time of year, but the money from these usually goes to firefighter charities or benevolent funds, rather than directly in the pompier’s pocket. 

If however, you prefer the raunchy firefighter calendars then we have something for you too. Happy New Year. 

Member comments

  1. The dustbin men came twice ( Veolia *and* Ville de Paris) at the end of November. I’ve moved into a new apartment this year and was caught on the hop with no cash both times. They were not happy men.
    Should I expect more people in January? Thanks for the tips on how much to give.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

How and when to send Christmas presents from France

If you want to send Christmas presents to friends and family overseas you need to know the deadline dates and how to avoid being hit with extra charges - here's what you need to know.

How and when to send Christmas presents from France

Deadlines

First things first, you need to make sure your parcel arrives in time for Christmas, which means sending it before the deadline.

The French postal service La Poste has the following deadlines;

In Europe

If you’re sending a parcel within France, the deadline to have it delivered by Christmas is December 23rd. 

If you’re sending to the UK or Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spanish islands (eg Tenerife), Croatia, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Malta, Norway, Portuguese islands (eg Madeira) or Romania you have until December 16th.

If you’re sending to Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden or Switzerland you have until December 17th.

If you’re sending to Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands or Portugal you have until December 19th.

Outside Europe

If you’re sending to the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand or Hong Kong you have until December 10th. Likewise if you’re sending to most French overseas territories, the deadline is December 10th.

For most other countries the deadline is December 3rd, but you can find the full list here

Private couriers like Fed-Ex and DPD have their own deadlines, although they are broadly in line with La Poste, and if you’re buying online each company has its own deadline on when it can guarantee a Christmas delivery.

Fees and customs declarations

If you’re sending parcels to another EU country then it’s pretty straightforward – just pay the delivery cost (you can check how much it will be to send via La Poste here) and make sure you send it before the deadline.

If, however, you are sending to a country outside the EU (which of course now includes the UK) then you will need to fill out a customs declaration form explaining what is in your parcel and whether it is a gift or not.

In addition to standard postal charges, you may also need to pay customs duties, depending on the value or your parcel and whether it is a gift or not. 

Find full details on customs duty rules HERE.

Banned items

And there are some items that are banned from the post – if you’re sending parcels to the US be aware that you cannot send alcohol through the mail as a private individual, so don’t try a ship some nice French wine or a bottle of your local liqueur. 

Most countries ban firearms and fireworks, not unreasonably, although be aware that this includes items like sparklers.

Sending food and plants is also often restricted with countries including Canada and Australia having strict rules and most other countries imposing restrictions on what you can send.

This also applies the other way and France bans any foodstuffs containing animal products (eg chocolate) sent from outside the EU. 

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