France’s seasonal calendar-sellers: How to avoid scams

Members of Nancy's firefighters' association pose with their 2019 calendar. The photographs reproduced famous paintings like
Members of Nancy's firefighters' association pose with their 2019 calendar. The photographs reproduced famous paintings like "Liberty Leading the People" by Delacroix. Photo: JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / AFP.
It's a winter tradition in France for public sector workers like firefighters and postal workers to go door to door selling calendars, but it's also fertile ground for scammers. Here's how to make sure your money is really going to a good cause.

It’s a long-held custom in France – from November, you will start to have people knocking on your door trying to sell you calendars for the new year. These have no fixed price so it is up to you how much money you choose to give in return.

But it’s important to know the rules and customs surrounding this practice so you don’t end up handing over money to unscrupulous fraudsters. These are the groups authorised to sell calendars:

Postal workers

They might have already delivered your letters that morning, but as we approach the end of the year, don’t be surprised to open the door later in the day to find your postal worker is back again.

Postal workers traditionally produce calendars every year, which could be yours in return for a small donation. The workers themselves are responsible for ordering their calendars, and they must sell them outside of their working hours.

It will most likely be the same person who delivers your post who sells you the calendar, making it easier to avoid scams, but know that they should also be wearing their official uniform and be able to show you their carte professionnelle (professional ID card).

Postal workers sell between 8 and 10 million calendars every year, according to Le Monde, with residents handing over on average €8 to €10. A tidy sum when added together, which replaces the “13th month” – an extra month’s salary which many employees in France receive at the end of the year, but which postal workers are not eligible for.

READ ALSO ‘Les étrennes’: What you need to know about France’s New Year’s tipping custom

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Firefighters

While postal workers’ calendars are tolerated, firefighters are officially allowed to sell theirs. They too are likely to arrive at your door, and they must be in uniform and able to show you their card. In the cities you will also see on-street sales of the pompiers’ calendars.

The money from the sales goes to a common fund which pays for things like Christmas festivities, activities for the firefighters and their families, and organisations which help the children of firefighters who have lost their lives on the job.

Usually fire stations put together their own calendars featuring local pompiers.

These calendars are sweet, but if you want to see a little more of France’s famously well-sculpted pompiers, there is also a more risqué annual calendar which is sold in support of international firefighter and other charities.

READ ALSO Why are French firefighters so smoking hot?

Waste collectors

The third group of workers who commonly engage in door-to-door sales are les éboueurs (rubbish collectors), who share the money between the different members of their team. But beware: in Paris, waste collectors and other city workers, including égoutiers (sewage workers), are strictly prohibited from selling calendars or asking for any kind of tip.

If a waste collector in the capital knocks on your door and asks for money, you are therefore encouraged to refuse, because they are most likely impersonating city employees, and may even have fake professional ID cards.

Other large cities like Nice and Lyon also ban waste collectors from asking for money, and other areas may have their own rules so check with your local town hall. This is partly because waste collectors are easier to impersonate, since most people are more likely to recognise their postal worker for example, and their uniforms are less recognisable as well.

Others

Sometimes local groups such as the village committee or a local charity will sell calendars, but they need permission from the mayor of Préfet in order to do this, so don’t be afraid to check.

What to do if you’re unsure

If somebody comes to your door and tries to sell a calendar, but you’re unsure whether they really are who they say they are, the French government offers the following advice:

  • Don’t let a stranger inside your home
  • Ask the seller to see their professional ID card
  • Make sure the official logo of the institution appears on the calendar
  • Don’t hesitate to warn elderly or isolated people you know about this type of door-to-door selling
  • Report suspicious or insistent behaviour to the police by dialling 17

Anybody else trying to sell calendars door-to-door requires specific written permission from the mayor or préfet, so don’t be afraid to ask to see this.

You can also call the town hall to find out who is allowed to sell calendars and whether there are set dates for this.

Now you have peace of mind and know where your money is going, you are free to be as generous as you like once the doorbell starts ringing (although don’t feel bad if times are tight and you have to say no).

Tips

Separate to calendar sales but involving some of the same people are les étrannes or the New Year tips that many people give to their local postal workers, waste collectors, cleaners and building managers.

These are of course not compulsory, but if you do want to give a little New Year gift here is a guide to how to do it.


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