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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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For members

MONEY

Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%?

The French government has capped electricity prices rises at four percent - but as with many French rules, there are certain exceptions.

Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%?

Question: I read in the media that electricity prices in France are capped at four percent, but I just got a letter from EDF telling me that my bill is going up by almost 20 percent – is this a mistake?

The French government’s bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield), froze gas prices at 2021 levels and capped electricity price hikes to four percent – it remain in place until at least the end of 2022.

However, there are some customers who will see increases to their bills of more than that – here’s why: 

The regulated tariff rate

The French government involvement in price-setting doesn’t just happen during periods of energy crisis, normally regulated tariff prices are updated twice a year: usually on February 1st and August 1st.

Typically, this value is calculated by the CRE (commission de régulation de l’énergie) and it is based on several different factors, which are explained on this government website. These tariffs proposed by the CRE are then subject to approval by the ministers in charge of energy and the economy.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

These affect the state-owned Engie (formerly Gaz de France), the mostly state-owned EDF and some local distribution companies. Around 70 percent of people in France get their electricity from EDF but other suppliers do exist in the market.

These alternative suppliers, like Direct-Énergie, Total Spring or Antargaz, are free to charge more – but don’t usually charge much above the EDF rates for obvious commercial reasons.

Basic rate

The government-set limit in price rises refers only to the basic rate (option base) for electricity.

This plan represents over 80 percent of the 32 million households connected to the electricity grid in France. So, there is a good chance you might be subscribed to this without even realising it. 

If you are on the basic tariff rate, your bill will not increase by more than four percent this year.

Other tariff options

However, other options for electricity bills do exist, including off-peak rates, green deals and fixed energy prices for a certain period.

Typically people who sign up for these will have been paying less for their electricity in the preceding months than those on the base rate.

However, there are certain special deals that are not covered by the four percent cap, and some users will find that their deal period has come to an end, they are then shifted onto the base rate – which is likely to represent a price increase for them of more than four percent.

It’s little consolation when faced with rising bills, but you will likely have been paying significantly less than customers who have been in the base rate for the past few years.

READ MORE: French government to continue energy price freeze until at least 2023

Kilowatt price

Because most electricity price plans are bafflingly complicated, the easiest way to compare is to look at the price per kilowatt-hour.

Your electricity bill consists of a fixed part, the monthly subscription (abonnement) and the variable part, which depends on the quantity of electricity consumed (in euro per kilowatt-hour, kWh). The latter part is what is concerned by the tariff shield of four percent.

Here is an example of what that might look like:

The mid-August base rate price per kilowatt-hour is €0.1740/ kWh, so if you’re with EDF they cannot charge you more than this rate.

Other EDF plans charge significantly less than that – for example the Vert Electrique Weekend deal has been charging €0.1080/kWh on weekends and €0.1434/kWh on weekdays. 

Bill rises

With the tariff shield, the average resident customer on the base rate will see a €38 rise on their bill this year, while professional customers will see an average of €60 rise. 

Without the tariff shield, electricity prices per residential (non-business) customer would likely have increased an average of €330 a year, according to the CRE.

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