Tipping in Paris theatres/Opera houses

I have just come back from Paris, and I am going to pass on something I learned about tipping whilst there.

Yesterday evening I attended a performance by Julia Fischer and Yulianna Avdeeva at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. I had asked for a slightly-above mid priced ticket as I was on holiday (might as well make it a bit more special ‘nest pah’?) In the semi-lottery which forms a lot of French booking experiences – here no exception (choosing one’s seats is so capitalist!) – this resulted in my being allocated a seat in the middle of a box on the first tier. My ticket was around 30 Euros.

Come the night of the show I exit from Metro stop Alma-Marceau via Avenue Montaigne exit (a delightful corner n’cafe location with a good Eiffel Tower view) and walk about two minutes to the venue. I enter the theatre with no fuss and go to my location, Box 12. But what’s this? The door is locked. The gentleman who passed my ticket calls over to his colleague who is unlocking other box’s doors. She unlocks the door to mine and shows me to my un-numbered seat. ‘Thank you,’ I say and go to my seat. Then she turns and as she leaves says something in French I didn’t understand. The conversation went like this:

Me:(In French) ‘Sorry? I am a stupid Englishman/English tourist.’
Attendant: (In English) ‘I said, I do not get paid a wage so I get paid by tips.’
Me: ‘Oops, sorry!’
Attendant: ‘It’s OK.’
Me: ‘Well at least I will know next time.’
Attendant: ‘Yes. Bye.’

I spent the rest of the night with an uneasy conscience, wondering whether to palm her some Euros next time she came in (but then I realised I didn’t have any change,) and tried throughout the rest of her time to-ing and fro-ing trying to avoid catching her gaze.

This is the second time this sort of thing has happened to me in Paris. The first time was when I went to Alhambra on Rue Yves Toudic to see Corsican polyphonic voice group a Filleta. Again I got a pricey seat because it was special. At the door a girl practically held my hand as she took me to my seat and then once done just stood there, utterly perplexing me until she gave me a weird look, muttered something and walked off in a huff. Later I saw the coy passing of coin from one hand to another, reminding me of when Proust’s Narrator, then a young boy under direction of his mother must give Francoise her coin in one neat and seamless movement at the exact moment of her signal. There it is met with a ‘confused yet expectant outstretched hand’ and the usher I ‘cut’ most likely held hers the same, confused because no tip forthcoming.

I have had a box seat at Palais Garnier before but haven’t tipped there before. I am wondering if I should have. I don’t think this happens in Opera Houses and Theatres in the UK. I recall it might apply to Broadway theatres too. (Anyone care to chip in?)

Lesson firmly learned: if you buy nice seats and you interact with someone who shows you to them or helps you, tip them!*

*Perhaps one should just tip all the time, every time just to be sure? For instance, I asked a barman at Opéra Bastille for a glass of tap water. On second thoughts, I think I should have tipped him. People of France! I am ashamed.

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