Art & Culture

Published on October 18th, 2014 | by Molly Montgomery

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Understand how the gratuity or “tip” work is not always obvious at first glance!

Whether you’re an American visiting Paris for the first time or you are French and spending a vacation in the United States, one of the confusing cultural differences you may encounter is quite simple: to tip or not to tip. On the one hand, you don’t want to be perceived as offending your foreign hosts, whether you are dining out at a nice restaurant or asking someone to help you carry your luggage to your hotel room. On the other hand, you don’t want to be ripped off.

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confusing cultural differences you may encounter is quite simple: to tip or not to tip. Photo by Lapresse.ca

Here’s a short guide to help you navigate tips in both countries:

If you are French and visiting the United States for the first time, you may be surprised to find that a tip means a lot to people working in the service industry, including waiters, taxi drivers, and valets. This stems from an unwritten cultural code in the U.S. surrounding tips. Tips, for the American consumer, are a way of expressing one’s feelings about the service one receives. In fact, some Americans joke that the word “tips” is an acronym for “To Insure Prompt Service.” Americans, for the most part, tip generously, but they can also withhold a generous tip in order to express their displeasure. For example, at a restaurant, Americans usually give a standard tip of between 15-20% of the meal’s cost. (Since the sales tax in many states hovers around 10%, Americans often double the tax to get an approximate idea of how much to tip). Americans leave a tip of more than 20% when they are particularly satisfied with their dining experience—
including the food, the speed of its delivery, and whether they felt their needs were attended to during the meal. And when they are less than satisfied, they leave a lower tip, of less than 15%. But that’s not fair, you might point out. Sometimes the problems that occur at a restaurant are not in a waiter’s control: the food might take longer than usual to cook, or the restaurant might be understaffed. But for Americans, the tip is a way of commenting on the overall experience of their meal, and unfortunately this sometimes leads to lower tips. However, it is considered rude to leave no tip or a very low tip (below 10%), so be aware of how you tip, especially if you plan on returning to a restaurant again. French tourists should also note that servers in restaurants often make less than minimum wage and rely on tips to supplement their income.

If you are dining out with a group of six or more people, make sure to check the menu at the restaurant to see if they add gratuity. Gratuity is another word for tip, and often restaurants will automatically tack on an 18 % gratuity for groups of six or larger. In that case, you are not required to pay any more than the gratuity, although if you feel generous, you can add more.

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Americans also tip for a number of other services including taxi rides. Photo by Labelleecole.fr

Americans also tip for a number of other services including taxi rides, help with luggage, and even for valet parking. These tips do not have to substantial. Between $1-5 usually will suffice. For these sorts of jobs, you’re usually expected to tip, but, don’t worry, it is not rude if you forget. For some services, such as prepaid airport shuttles like Super Shuttle, you can choose to pay gratuity in advance. While this is a convenient option, some people prefer to tip in cash in order to make sure that the person who has served them directly receives the money.

In France, Americans should be warned that the unspoken rules about tipping are not the same. First of all, in restaurants, a service charge of 15% is already included by law and will be listed on the check. You are not required to leave an additional tip, but if you are feeling generous and pleased with your experience, leave an extra 5-10% in cash on the table.

You should not pay less than the amount shown on the check, which includes service charge because this charge is not a suggestion, but part of the meal’s cost. In France, tips serve a different purpose: to pay for the service given, not to evaluate the waiter’s performance. High quality of service is expected, not earned. Still, showing gratitude towards a server for going above and beyond with an extra tip cannot hurt.

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In France, the service is already included in the bill, yet the tradition of tipping continues. Photo by Quintonic.fr

Just as for restaurants, tipping for other services in France such as taxi rides, coat checks, and other services is not required, but definitely appreciated. Even a tip of only 1€ could suffice, depending on the circumstances. If you’re a student traveling on a budget, this may give you a sigh of relief, because it means you can keep a few extra Euros in your wallet. But if you can afford to tip, why not? However, Americans should be careful to remember that tipping does not entitle them to special treatment. A few euros here and there can go a long way towards showing appreciation in the French hospitality world, but they should also be accompanied by a polite demeanor towards the server.


About the Author

is an English teaching assistant at a high school in France and a recent graduate of UCLA, where she studied English and French. Her writing has been published in *TravelAge West Magazine* and in various literary journals including *Westwind* and the *Blue Lake Review*.



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