The giving of gratuities for services rendered (tipping) is a curiously complex procedure with no precise rules. Most of us tip to avoid embarrassment or – we tell ourselves – to reward some smiling individual who we think has done a good job. Fortunately France has a fairly healthy attitude to tipping: you do it in moderation, if it feels right and never because you feel obliged to.
Economists, however, warn that thoughtless and excessive tipping can distort the free market and even cause inflation.
We may believe strategic tipping encourages good service but most studies show we are unconsciously suckers for the appearance of the person who serves us and their superficial friendliness rather than their efficiency and dedication. Sociologists, meanwhile, see tipping as an easy way to replace a sincere human relationship with a mercenary transaction. A tip has even been described as the price one person pays to demonstrate his superiority over another – who will pocket the cash but despise the giver for the implication. If you are going to tip in France, how you do it is important. Always make sure you exchange a few personal words with the receiver so that you are not merely exerting status. Everyone who works hard appreciates (and deserves) a little extra but not at the expense of human warmth.