This weekend I mostly ate homemade mince pies and looked smug, curled up like a cat on the sofa, enveloped in my poncho. Mr Frog on the other hand began his Christmas shopping and was forced to join the hordes of other disorganised Parisians in the shopping purgatory of the department stores. Of the four presents he needed to buy I believe he returned with two. Largely due to the fact that he left with no clear idea of what he intended to buy. Are men genetically programmed to have an aversion to forward planning?
Arriving home shellshocked and sheepish, he pulled a cheap looking calendar out of his rucksack. Thankfully this was not my Christmas present. Evidently the firemen had been doing a hard sell outside the Galéries Lafayette and Mr Frog was feeling charitable.
As Christmas approaches in France, etiquette dictates that you are supposed to tip all sorts of people, in addition to buying presents for your loved ones. These cash gifts are called les étrennes, and are often given in exchange for a calendar. For some reason. Although frankly there are only so many calendars a person needs.
I’ve never had a clue how much I’m supposed to give when I happen to answer the door to a calendar seller. According to one article in a money magazine your postie deserves € 8, the firemen €5 and the binmen up to €15 (they do their rounds every day in Paris). In apartment buildings which employ a concierge the occupants give the equivalent of 10% of their rent, which in this city is not a modest sum. However, as most concierges are paid a pittance (some formerly only got lodgings and no salary at all), it does seem fair enough as I imagine they rather depend on their end of year bonus.
To this list we also have to add the childminder. Now that’s a tricky one. How much is enough? Clearly this is not someone I can afford to offend. Which is why she will be getting € 100 in shopping vouchers on top of her € 700 salary this month. Anything for a quiet life.
It strikes me as slightly odd that salaried civil servants like postmen and dustmen should be able to come knocking on doors soliciting tips. Apparently La Poste condones but does not actively encourage the sale of calendars (featuring kitsch photos of fluffy kittens) by their staff in exchange for étrennes. In my building a sign went up on the lift door announcing the date on which our postman would be paying us his annual visit. It’s the only time of year he feels able to make the journey all the way up to the fifth floor. A fact which condemns me to many Saturday morning queuing sessions at the local post office to retrieve parcels too big for my letter box.
Of course when the doorbell did ring, at 8pm on a Friday evening, I was bathing the Tadpole and couldn’t answer the door. The rather determined postman rang the bell intermittently for a full five minutes, yelling ‘C’est le facteur!’ for good measure. I imagine I will now be blacklisted as a non-tipper and my more interesting looking parcels will get ‘lost in the post’.
Paris dustmen (politically correct version: techniciens de surface) are legally not even permitted to come knocking on doors. But of course they will.
Pompiers are allowed to sell their calendars as long as they are in uniform, which seems fair, given that many are volunteers. I was rather taken with the May/June page (above) of Mr Frog’s purchase, showing a stocky fireman holding a large hose. I remarked that sales would go through the roof if the pompiers were to take a leaf out of the Calendar Girls’ book and pose in a state of undress.
A spot of internet research revealed that a group of firefighters in Buis les Baronnies already pulled this stunt in 2001 in aid of a national charity. With the following results.
You may click on the image for more. If you are so inclined.