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Holiday Gift-Giving Etiquette in France: Les Étrennes

shutterstock_222215068Do you find French gift-giving etiquette confusing? 

You’re not alone.

When you’re new to France  – or even if you’ve been here awhile –  it can be hard to figure out whom to gift and what’s appropriate to give. You’ve got your concierge or gardienne to think about… your kid’s school teachers…the nounou… and what about that parade of postal carriers, firefighters and garbage collectors who come knocking on the door in early December, their arms full of calendars? Are they supposed to get something too?

In France, these holiday gifts are called “les étrennes.” Traditionally, the word refers to gifts given to private and public workers (and sometimes small children) in the New Year. In recent years, however, we start handing out these tokens of appreciation in December.

If you’re having trouble keeping les étrennes etiquette straight, here’s a little guide to help you along.

  • School Teachers: You’re under absolutely no obligation to give a present. If your kids insist, a box of chocolates or a thoughtful card will be appreciated. But talk to other parents at your kids’ school – we’ve heard of some teachers receiving things like scarves and bottles of wine for the holidays. If gift giving is a tradition at your particular school, you may feel compelled to fall in line. But generally in France, teachers aren’t given gifts for the December holidays.
  • Extra-curricular teachers/coaches: It’s thoughtful, though not necessary, to offer a little something to your kids’ soccer coach, ballet teacher or private tutors. If the teacher has produced a December recital, concert or performance, you may want to present the teacher with flowers, a handwritten note or card, or another small gift at that time.
  • The concierge or gardien(ne): These are the people who work for your apartment building: the receptionist and the janitor, respectively, although in sometimes one may do the job of both. They may collect your mail, screen your visitors, or keep the building clean – or do special things for your like water your plants while you’re away, or keep an extra key to your apartment. When it comes to your concierge and gardien, gifts get a little more pricey. The going price is – gasp – 5% to 10% of your monthly rent or mortgage. If that seems too steep, ask others in your building but typically, apartment dwellers give anything from €50 to €300 at Christmas.
  • House cleaners: Some say offer a month’s salary to your femme de ménage (cleaning person); other says that €50 – €100 is sufficient. If you feel close to her or know her tastes, a gift of flowers, chocolates, or a scarf – in addition to cash – is also acceptable. The same works for babysitters (nounous) too.
  • Garbage collectors and the local firefighters. Be aware that the French usually tip public workers for their service. The tip must always be in cash, and placed in an envelope. If you’re going to be away for the holidays, give the gift before you leave. Typically, these workers get between €5 and €25 – possibly more if they have helped you personally during the year. Usually, the firefighters will give you a calendar in exchange.
  • Your postal delivery person: Give €5 to €25 in exchange for the calendar they’ll inevitably offer. You’re free to buy it or not, but service may improve if you’re generous.

What’s your experience with French gift-giving etiquette? Share below!