Saying merci in the native coin
The French are oh-so-picky about some things that don't seem that important to others, like the complex rules of French grammar. But they can be extremely casual about matters Americans worry to death about, like the rules for tipping. Since it's always best to follow the behavior of locals in matters of etiquette, you'll want to adapt the more relaxed attitude and customs of tipping when in France.
Don't tip like an American
In America, everybody tips. Sometimes not enough, in the eyes of the service provider, but tipping is the habit. Tips are as American as apple pie. When Americans travel to France, they tend to tip excessively, leaving tips that seem to the French as ostentatiously huge as U.S. portion sizes. Tipping 15 to 20 percent in France can be viewed not just as excessive but as culturally ignorant.
The other alternative American visitors to France use is to tip nothing, zero, rien de rien. This can become the default for travelers who read an article on the internet saying that the French don't tip.
Tipping for casual dining, parking and hotel services
To navigate the distance between the overtipping and never-tipping alternatives, you'll need a few simple guidelines to organize your tipping. One good first step is to divide tipping occasions into those casual enough to require only a token tip and those that are slightly more serious.
For casual tipping situations, the French simply offer a small merci to someone by leaving a euro or two when the spirit moves them. Consider doing the same. Fortunately, French currency includes coins for 1 and 2 euros, and either of these often carry you through. Give one of these coins to a valet or bellhop per bag, to a hotel maid, to a doorman who gets you a cab or a parking attendant who gets your car. Anywhere from 1, 2 or even 3 euros per round to an attentive bartender, room service waiter or for service at an informal restaurant. Or leave nothing at all. How to decide which amount? Follow your heart.
Tipping for full-service restaurants
The biggest tipping questions for Americans involve fancier restaurants, the kind with waiters who take your order and bring the food to your table. But before you start multiplying the bill by 15 percent, consider that there is a different system in place in France.
Under French law, a restaurant tab includes an established 15 percent service charge. This amount is divided among the restaurant personnel. If the menu states service compris, that means that the prices you see listed on the menu include the service charge. Your bill will be the sum total of the menu amounts for each of the items you order. If you don't see service compris on the menu, your bill will still include the service charge mandated by law, but it will be in addition to the menu prices. That means that when you pay your bill, you've already paid 15 percent for service.
Should you leave something more? Most French people do leave a little more in tips directly to the waiter. Fewer than 20 percent of French people never leave an additional tip. And those who do might leave a euro or two for each person in their party rather than a calculated percentage amount.
But if you feel like calculating out the tip, experts suggest that between 5 and 10 percent is a generous amount for restaurant servers. Leave cash, rather than adding it to a credit card. And it's better form to hand it to the person rather than leave it on the table.
Tipping for taxis
French people tend to simply round up to include a tip for their taxi drivers, and it's a good solution. For a 9.50 euro taxi ride, fork over 10 euros. If the amount is larger, round up to the nearest 10 euros. For example, if the taxi charge is 66 euros, hand the driver 70 euros. Some American guidebooks suggest a 10 percent tip to cab drivers, so that's an alternative.