Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Étrennes or not étrennes, that is the question!

If you live in the average French town, you've lately been solicited by quite a few waves of professionals passing by your apartment or house and asking you to buy 2013 calendars and other (useless) goodies.

The firefighters department especially sent their most beautiful specimens to lure hundreds of female weak minds into potential sin, insensitive to the fact that these are the last days of the year, our last chance to recollection and deep meditation on this year's too often transgressions of the divine laws. "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it" said good 'ol Mr. Oscar Wilde. Who are we to contradict him?...

The firefighters (a category of men holding a special place in the French women subconscious) are not the only ones who will knock at your door at this time of the year: there are also the postmen, the garbage collectors and some others, whom you never see with other occasions, all enthusiastically performing what became a year's end tradition in France: les étrennes.

The étrennes is a tip that one offers at the end of the year to the people with whom one interacts throughout that year and it's not to be confounded with a Christmas gift. Excepting the firefighters and other aforementioned unexciting professionals, your lovely nanny kinda expects it and also your gardien (watchman). Every year before Christmas I receive a greeting card from the family of gardiens that are managing our complex building and I find it very thoughtful of them to write my very name on it. Imagine how it is to write a thousand names on a thousand envelopes and then make sure you place it in the right mailbox: that effort alone deserves a reward!

Now, every year there's this fierce debate over to tip or not to tip and the biggest question is how much and in what form. The French people I know have different viewpoints that I found are linked to their income, their attachment to traditions or their more or less liberal vision of the world.

There are the ones who are tipping everyone and their hairdresser's dog, regardless of other considerations, because they follow the traditions and they can afford it.
Then there are the ones who don't tip at all, saying that they have already paid everyone (by paying their taxes, the rent or a direct salary) and those people should do their duty because that's the right thing to do and not because they should expect a tip. This category is the one of the idealists with the liberal views (but they might not be able to afford to tip either) and they gladly take this opportunity to grumble over the black economy created by this often undeclared money (legally, tips are supposed to be declared in France).
There is also the third category of the ones who are giving with a more nuanced attitude: not to everyone, only to those who paid more attention to them or did them a favor outside their specific duties. Or to firefighters, who are paid so little and confront the dangers every day and they're so handsome!... And so strooong!... And so sexy sure of themselves!...

Less than a week and it's Noëlllll! Happy giving!

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