December in France is upon us, the mini bûches de Noël (French rolled sponge cakes) are appearing in boulangeries, sapins de Noël (Christmas trees) are being carried down the street and cheery lights are decorating storefronts. Which leads us to another tradition for Christmas: gifting. If you are new to France, you may have a few more gifts to consider, depending on your living situation and activities.
If you live in a building with a guardien(ne) d’immeuble (the building’s caretaker), it is customary to give them a monetary tip. This all depends on how much work they do, and how much you would like them to think kindly of you…because a guardien who likes you can make your life easier. The tasks that guardiennes do can be: working full-time hours, receiving packages and/or registered letters, delivering packages to your door, cleaning, and light gardening. Sometimes they live in the building itself. What kind of guardien you have depends completely on your building. If a building has a guardien with many responsibilities, residents can tip as much as they like, up to 5-10% of monthly rent. That is not a hard and fast rule. If the guardien is part time, you're in a large complex, or you are on a budget, you can give them less money, a bottle of bubbly, or something homemade like cookies. Any gesture is nice!
Childcare and Teacher Gifts in France
If you have kids with caretakers or teachers, it is also nice to give them a small gift. You may have noticed elaborate displays in chocolate shops in December in France. Indeed, it is customary to give chocolate as a gift in December (generally speaking, to anyone you are buying gifts for) so you can’t go wrong giving the team at a crèche a box of chocolates. If you have a nounou (nanny) or an assistante maternelle (a childminder who watches several children from their home) or your child has a teacher, you can give them something small. What that may be depends on how well you know them. Friends have told me they have made cookies or brownies, made their own gifts (like stamped towels or wreaths), or bought a small potted plant, box of chocolates, a candle etc.
Note that at the end of the year when summer vacances (holidays) start it is also nice to give another gift, especially if your child is leaving a crèche or childcare, for maternelle. For teachers at the end of the year, the parent association usually does a collective gift from the parents so you are off the hook trying to come up with an individual gift.
Is someone knocking on your door? You may see pompiers (firefighters) out in uniform selling calendars, this is also an annual December tradition in France. In Paris, only firemen and post office workers are authorized to sell annual calendars door to door. Scams are numerous so be careful opening your door and giving money to anyone. They have to be in uniform and carry a card to identify themselves. The money from the sale of calendars of the firefighters goes to the associations within the organization, such as families of injured firefighters.
Sanitation workers, les éboueurs, in Paris are prohibited from selling calendars door to door. Outside of Paris, each city can decide whether to allow them to sell calendars. The police, and anyone from utility companies are not allowed to sell calendars.
Hopefully, this helps you anticipate your gifting and tipping needs this December. Let us know who you like to buy gifts for, or what gifts you find to be a hit!